Hardback, 272 pp
Dolls, models – usually small – of humans and used by children for play but also used in magic and religious ritual, seem to be fairly universal and are found all over the world and date back millennia. Collecting dolls is also a widespread phenomenon not limited to any geographic area or specific time, and it is about the collecting of Japanese dolls that this book begins.
With short chapters on such things as the first Western collectors of ningyo, looking behind the scenes of a Meiji-era Japanese Doll Shop, etc. and the book ends with hints and tips for those who may be thinking about starting to collect Japanese dolls, including a list of dealers around the world who specialize in them, but the greatest part of the book focuses on the dolls themselves.
Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo covers eighteen different styles of doll across seven broad categories, and while there are plenty of other types of Japanese doll, most with regional variations, it covers most of the types of doll you are likely to come across. There are the obvious types such as the dolls found on display at Hina Matsuri, but also several types of mass produced ceramic dolls and the extremely simple Kokeshi wooden dolls. Interestingly bunraku puppets are also included as are two types of karakuri ningyo, mechanical dolls.
For me the most intriguing are the iki-ningyo, known as “living dolls” which exhibit a realism that cannot be surpassed and are truly miniature sculptures. For each style of doll we are given the origins of the style and its historical development, but more importantly perhaps, the context for the dolls, how they fit into the broader culture, the whys of their purpose etc.
More meaning is found in the costumes, the poses, the humans that the dolls are modeled on, leading us to a greater appreciation of any dolls we may come across. However the best reason for buying this book are the photos, 400 of them, almost all full color, some whole page, and all very detailed. This is most definitely a coffee table book that will draw you in after flipping a few pages. For anyone thinking about collecting Japanese dolls, this book is a gold mine, but anyone interested in Japanese art and culture will find plenty to expand their knowledge.