Japanese Dolls: The Ultimate Tour
The last time I was staying in Japan I happened to come across a little shop full of beautiful Antique style Japanese dolls. I can't read Japanese myself, so I couldn't really tell much about the store or its purpose. But it prompted me to think about the fact that Japanese Dolls are so well loved. But supposing someone wanted to go to Japan to enjoy an ultimate tour of traditional Japanese dolls, what would be their best locations? Naturally, such a tour will have to wait till Covid-19 is gone. But you can review the locations below and consider whether or not you'd like to travel. I've selected them to all be in Kyoto's main CBD so that it is easier to travel between them all, and they are all close to fine, affordable eateries. THE BEST TIME OF YEAR When I went on my last trip, I happened to land in Kansai airport during their "Hina Matsuri" period. Hina Matsuri, or the festival of girls, is celebrated throughout Japan every year in early March. Much as we in the West decorate our businesses and homes with Christmas trees around Christmas, in Japan you will find exquisite collections or displays of dolls everywhere you look. Many fashion stores will also hold special sales around this time. So, this can also be a good time to visit if you would like to buy women's clothing.
(Image borrowed from http://japan-australia.blogspot.com/)
If you would like to own a set of dolls like these to take home with you, they can be purchased at most Toys "R" Us stores in Japan. They get real traditional artisans to make them, so they have the true traditional look. These sets can be expensive, and there can be a wait time while the sets are being put together for you. But for the quality, they are certainly worth it.
KYOTO HANDICRAFT WORKSHOP CENTRE
If you want to see what it would be like to make Japanese dolls, you have different options at the Kyoto Handicraft Workshop Centre. It has a gift shop where you can buy a range of different Japanese traditional toys including dolls. There is a display area where various Japanese artisan products can be viewed. And there are small workshops people can take if they would like to try traditional Japanese handicrafts including doll making.
Such a little doll would be both a fun activity and a charming souvenir. Bookings can be done on the official website where I borrowed the images above.
THE ANDO JAPANESE DOLL SHOP
(Borrowed from ando-doll.com.)
If you are looking for more advanced experiences, or even if you just want to visit one of Kyoto's most significant doll-related locations, a visit to the Ando Japanese Doll Shop would be unmissable. The chief artisan working there, Ando Tadahiko, has been active for 52 years, and it shows in the quality of his work. There you can go for the "Ichimatsu Doll Fitting Experience", which takes around two hours and involves dressing a beautiful Japanese doll to your own taste before having your photo taken with it. But it is important to book in advance. You can find the details on their website.
(Borrowed from ando-doll.com/english,) They also offer the option of having custom dolls made just for you, to celebrate significant points in your life. You can even commission a doll to be made in your likeness. Tadahiko did such a doll of himself:
(Borrowed from ando-doll.com.)
THE COSTUME MUSEUM
Not far from Kyoto Station is the Kyoto Costume Museum. What I found, to my delight, when I attended was that the costumes are actually in miniature scale and worn by beautiful little dolls. They are expertly posed in beatiful scenes modelled after pieces of famous Japanese literature. Their website is fairly sparse, though it can give you a lot of historical background about Japanese garments. But when you arrive, what you find is a sumptuous feast for the eyes.
(Images borrowed from discoverkyoto.com/places-go/costume-museum/)
Adding to the experience is the way all the dolls are arranged in scenes that provide fascinating insights into how people lived during the Heian Period. They even depict ways fabrics and clothing were made and treated to some degree. I only wish I had read through discoverkyoto.com/places-go/costume-museum before going so that I could have better understood what I was seeing.
KYOTO JAPANESE FOLK DOLLS MUSEUM
For the most historical perspective you can get on Japanese Dolls, you can go to see the collection at the Kyoto Japanese Folk Dolls Museum.
Around 200,000 dolls of varying kinds and ages can be seen here, But I think the most exciting thing to see at this location would be "karakuri", a type of kenetic doll which can move by itself and is the forerunner to the robots we have today. To see how amazing karakuri are, please watch this video:
It can be a little tricky to arrange the tickets, but Gion Corner is well worth the visit. All in one experience you get to see Geisha dance, Traditional Japanese comedy, Court Dancing, Tea Ceremony and other forms of Japanese art. But if you are a lover of dolls, what you will find most interesting is the "Bunraku" or puppetry segment of the theatre performance. Since Gion Corner is a Historic Japanese theatre, it is an absolutely beautiful and well-maintained location. That you can see so many forms of traditional Japanese arts in one sitting means that it is excellent value. And as far as I've been able to see, it's the only place in Kyoto where you can see Bunraku. You can see much more on Gion Corner's website.
(Image borrowed from uncoveringjapan.com.)