21st January 2001
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Nothing wooden about them

By Laila Nasry 
They have no hands or legs. However their faces reflect anything but 'wooden looks'. Colourfully dressed some of them are painted with smiling faces, while others blush bashfully. The serious faces fail to hide the twinkle in their eyes. They stand tall each reflecting the style and character of a simple but unique culture. 

Kokeshi dolls are typical Japanese folk toys. Dating back to around two hundred years or more, they originated as a result of wood craftsmen in the Tohoku region deviating from their usual creations of wooden bowls, trays and other household items and using their skill and ingenuity to bring a smile to a child's face. For these dolls were for the sole purpose of entertaining the kids who visited the local hotsprings with their parents. 

These dolls reflect the simplicity of Japanese culture. Traditional Kokeshi are usually crafted by hand and the painting done by steady-handed individual craftsmen presenting a vivid reflection of the character and temperament of individual craftsmen and the local environment in which they live.

There are 11 immediately recognisable types of dolls namely Tsuchiyu, Togata, Yajiro, Naruko, Sakunami, Yamagata, Kijiyama, Nanbu, Tsugaru, Zao-takayu and Hijiori. 

Over the years Kokeshi dolls have evolved into an art which calls for a lot of creativity, for the Kokeshi range is based on particular themes in which the beauty of the dolls lie. 

Apart from the craftsmen there are specialised designers for this purpose. 

Today Kokeshi dolls are made throughout Japan and are famous for their souvenir value. They have emerged as distinctive folk toys exhibited and sold at special shops. 

An exhibition of Kokeshi dolls organised by the Embassy of Japan in collaboration with The Japan Foundation will be held from January 20-25 at the Colombo Public Library - main auditorium and in the Galle Town hall from January 30 to February 1 from 9a.m. - 6.30 p.m. 

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