to the BOS home page
Society
why join? membership, magazine, library, local meetings, conventions, publications, mailing list, members area, copyright
Practical
teaching, tips, techniques, diagrams, folders, data, events, site search, videos, education
Supplies
paper, books, CDs, Merchandise
Academic
theory/essays/mathematics, glossary, the Lister list
Fun
fun models, puzzles & jokes
Gallery
origami images
Contact
get in touch, find volunteers & commercial folders

bos50 information

to the Lister List index

Origami Doll Making

On 20th July, Ana Waitekus posted this query: "I am new to this list as of today. I am sorry if I am asking questions that have been answered in the past! I have been making origami dolls for several years now. I have been choosing paper patterns and colors as I desire. I would like to find out if colors are symbolic of anything or if patterns have significant meanings. Does anyone know where I could find out about the tradition of origami dolls and information about paper patterns and colors when making these dolls?"

The same day, Julia Palffy of Swizerland wrote that she, too, would be interested in any informtion concerning ane-sama-ninyo.

It is perhaps a coincidence that Ana joined the Origami List just two days after I had posted an appreciation of Toshie Takahama, who died on 7th July. I mentioned Mrs. Takahama's superlative skill and artistry, not only in the field of classic origami, but also in creating the most magnificent paper dolls.

I have been busy with other things during the past few days, but nobody else seems to have written a reply to Anna. I do not pretend to be an expert on the subject, but perhaps I can say a few words which may helpher and Julia.

Anna asks three questions:

!. Are colours symbolic of anything and do patterns have significnt meanings?

2. Where can information be found about the tradition of origami dolls?

3. Where can information be found about paper patterns and colours.

I have used Ana's own title for this posting, but perhaps it should be pointed out that doll making of the kind to which she is referring is not strictly "origami" or paper follding, since the paper is shaped and several pieces of different kinds of paper are used in constructing each doll. Nevertheleless, doll making is a closely related paper craft fullof japanese character and tradition.

The subject of Japanese dolls in general is a vast one. They take many forms and are made from many different materials ranging from wood and clay to eggshells and leaves. They have a long and varied history and it is not possible to go into detail about each kind. Nevertheless, they are all inter-related and the varieties of dolls shade off into one another. To obtain a quick idea of the range of Japanese dolls, look at the coloured plate on page 293 of volume 1 of "Japan - An Illustrated Enclopedia" published by Kodensha. It is, however, far from complete. There are short articles on Dolls and on the yearly Dolls Festival.

At one end of the scale, dolls are related to religious effigies. The very word "doll" in English is cognate with the word "idol". At the other end, dolls shade off into puppets and marrionettes, both of which have a rich tradition of their own in Japan. Between the two, dolls accumulate much symbolism of widely different kinds. But above all, dolls, ("ningyo" is the word for doll in Japanese) have always been toys played with by little girls, just as everywhere in the world. Dolls played with by girls may be as simple as a couple of sticks tied together or as elaborate as artistically sculpted china dolls richly clothed in expensive fabrics. As such they have little symbolic meaning, apart from the symbol of a babies and motherhood and playing at homes. But even little boys had their own dolls in the form of samurai warriors corresponding with Action man in modern Western culture. (No doubt Action Man is also supplanting Samurai dolls in modern Japan!)

I have searchd for instances of folklore symbolism for dolls, but I have found little. Perhaps the best known instance is the origin of some kinds of dolls as skapegoats. During the Heian period, on the third day of the third lunar month simple dolls were made. By rubbing the dolls against their own bodies, Japanese people transferred to them all their impurities and sins which were cast away by throwing the dolls into the river or the sea. This was not peculiar to Japan. the tradition is said to have come from China and there were similar sorts of ceremonies in the West

It is thought that in part, the Dolls' Festival, or Hina Matsuri Festival which is celebrted on 3rd March is partly derivd from this tradition. Little girls display thier collections of dolls on a tiered shelf with the Lord and Lady (usually they have incorrectly becomeknown as the Prince and Princess or the Emperor and Empress) at the top and courtiers, musicians and guards on the lower shelves surrounded by a more or less traditional collection of lanterns, trees and household utensils. The little girls put on their kimono and hold a party in front of the display of dolls. Rice cakes are offered to the dolls (but eaten by the little girls!)

Another folklore aspect of dols is know Teru-teru-bozu, literally, the Shine Shine Doll. Perhaps the tradition has faded today, but in past times, if Japanese chidren were going on a picnic they would make simple paper dolls and hang them in trees in the hope that they would bring fine weather. "Teru-teru--bozu, Please make it shine tomorrow", they sang. If it rained instead, the Teru-teru-bozo was left to hang in the rain!

The Dolls' Festival probably developed a simple form as early as the Heian period. The dolls which are used vary greatly and depend on the social status of the family. Some early dolls were known as Kamibina and were stiff standing dolls made by folding paper over a stick having a round knob for the head. On the other hand, wealthy families would go to great ostenatation with expensively mde and clothed dolls. In later years the less well-off might still make do with paper dolls, but the style changed. Paperfolders are familiar with a traditional style of paper-folded sitting dolls. Examples are shown in the Kayaragusa of about 1845, but they resemble figures in Chushingura Orikata of 1797. Michio Uchiyama designed many of these dolls and they were collected together in a book by Naozo Ishimi published in 1931. Usually, however, these dolls use cuts, so they do not meet with great enthusiasm from modern paperfolders with their rule of "no cutting". Many Japanese-language origami books have instructions for makeing these traditional paper-folded dolls.

The style of clothing of Hina and other dolls has always reflected the dress of the wealthy classes and a traditional craft has grown up of making exquisitely clothed dolls clothed in from rich paper. The actual framework of the doll is very simple and no more than a head with a stick on which to hang the clothes. Along with the stylish clothing, ways were found to crete the elborate hair styles of past ages. Collections of these dolls were frequently made and when they survive, they are very precious. This style of doll becme known in the Tokyo area as "anesma ningyo". The words mean "elder sister dolls", perhaps because they were not dolls for playing with by little girls, but dolls to be displayed and admired by their elder sisters.

The making of anesama ningyo remains a popular pastime in Japan. There are many books in Japanese giving instruction in the art. Papers are specialy producd both for the clothing and for the hair and kits of everything needed to make an anesama ningyo can be bought from shops. Of course, like everything else articstic, much more is needed than the kit and I hav never dared to attempt to mke one! Two Japanese-language books have the English subtitles "Origami Dolls: Representing Japanese Tradition" volumes One and Two. (ISBN 4-8347-0457-2 and 4-8347-0693-1) I have often seen them in shops in the West which sell origami books and they are probably still available. They cover a wide varieyy of traditions, but are mainly practical instruction books.

Although dolls may in part have their origin in foldklore and may, as such, have had symbolic menings, dolls are not in general symbolic in Japan today any more than they are in the West. Dolls a are for playing with or for collecting or for displaying. Making them is a craft of a hobby. Sometimes the creation of dolls may become an art.

An easily available and inexpensive book in English about Japanese dolls, mainly about making an Anesama dolls is the little "Japanese Paper Dolls" by Komaku Ishigaki in the Hoikusha Color Books series (ISBN 4-586-54032-X) It is mainly about making dolls, but ther eis a little about early dolls and there are illustrations of a selection of Chiyogami papers used for making dolls..

Another book which is useful, because it deals with dolls from the point of view of traditional customs is "Japanese Crafts and Customs, A seasonal Approach" by Kunio Ekiguchi and Ruth S. McCreery: Kodensha, ISBN 4-7700-1687-5. This has an account of the Dolls' Festival and has sections about several different kinds of japnese dolls. It calls the Anesama dolls "Lady Dolls or "Shimada Dolls". there are also instructions for making more elaborate Genjii Dolls, primitive "Standing dolls|" and Eggshell dolls.

Fromt he point of view of the history of dolls and their primitive symbolism, I have found a really scholarly bo k, "The Five Sacred Festivals of Japan" by U.A.Casals (Charles Tuttle and Company,1967, no ISBN) to be very authoritative and interesting. It may, however, be difficult to find. U.A.Casal was a Swiss businessman who lived in Japan.

Ana asks about sth symbolism of colours.This is a very complex subject, because colours can have a multiplicity of symbolic meanings in every culture. Think, for instance what the colour green can mean in English. While I have found a fair amount about colour symbolism in Chines culture, I have found very little about the subject in Japan .This does not mean to say that it did not exist, but it is not mentioned in the boks I have consulted.The Japanese adopted much in their culture fromthe Chinese, so that in all probability, much that applies in China probably also applies in Japan.

In Japan, white is generlly regarded as the colour of mourning. Nevertheless, white also symoblises purity and virginity. Today, when many Japanese girls marry at a Christian ceremony, clearly attracted by the traditional white wedding gown, this aspect of the symbolism of white has increaed. At traditional Japnese wedding ceremonies the bride is dressed not in white, but in a gloriously and richly coloured kimono.

Although white is traditionaly the colour of mourning, the Japanese, like westerners, usually wear dark colours at funerals. Nevertheless, only yesterday I heard from Mrs Judith Legman that Mr Yoshizawa had sent her a wonderful bouquet of white flowers to express his condolences on the death of her husband Gershon Legman, who died earlier in the year.

Wheras formal envelopes used for gifts of money are strictly coloured in black and white for funerals and sad occsions, fthose used for congratualatory occasions are red and white or gold and white or red gold and white. Red, as in the west is a virile colour expressing happiness, power and celebration. I suspect,however, that all this has little to do with the dressing of anesama dolls!

I have left until last the subject of the papers which are used in clothing anesama dolls. These are "Chiyogami" papers and the making and printing of them is another minor Japanese art form. Originally, patterned papers were made by wood-block printing, but other techniques were adopted as mechanical printing techniques were imported from the West in the 19th Century. The variety of patterns is enormous and the designs are extremely varied, from the exqisite and elegant to the frankly crude and bizaare; and with everything, representative or abstract in between. There doesn't seem to be any code of symbolism involved, beyond the symbolism of the pariular objects used to make up the pattern in each paper, cranes perhaps or waves or phoenixes or autumn leaves.Just as some Japnese collected dolls, others collected Chiyogami papers.

The subject is dealt with in some detail in "The World of Chiyogami" by Ann Herring who was born in Oregon, but who became a profssor at Hosei University in Tokyo.The book was published by Kodensha in 1987 (ISBN 4-7700-1313-2).. It is a delightful book containing some history, notes about printing techniques and many coloured illustrations of fascinting examles of Chiyogami.

As I have mentioned, "Japanese Dolls" by Komako Ishigaki also contains illustrations of Chiyogami patters. Other books which contain information both about Japanese papers of every kind and about dolls are "The Art of Japnese Paper" by Dominique Buisson (Terrail, Paris, 1992, ISBN 2-87939-009-5) and "Papiers Japonais" by Francoise Paireau, Editions Biro, Paris, 1991, ISBN 2-87660-110-9). For Japanese customs, see Mock Joya; "Things Japanese". this remarkable book which is a window on Old Japan was published in a one-voume edition by the Tokyo News Service,1960, but there have been many earlier and later editions.

Like Origami, the subject of Japanese dolls is one of enormously varied and fascinating interest. The two subjects wonderfully overlap and complement each other and will amply repay time spent on their study.

David Lister

   
All contents are © BOS and/or individual contributors. The BOS is a registered charity (293039). Site copyright & disclaimer. Site design courtesy of 12testing. No part of this website may be reproduced in any form (including e-books) without specific permission.