Taiken Japan

Autumn Leaves 2016

Iwatsuki: City of Dolls

Photo: INVISIBLE A on Flickr

Iwatsuki: City of Dolls

Elena Perez

Near the well-known city of Omiya, located in the centre of the Kanto plain, there is a small city, with an estimated population lower than 112,000 but with an amazing and an invaluable Japanese traditional treasure: doll-making.


Iwatsuki is a ward of the city Saitama, in Saitama Prefecture. It was formed on April 1 2005, when the city of Iwatsuki was incorporated into Saitama. Historically, the city prospered not only as the castle town for the Iwatsuki domain (Iwatsuki-han, 岩槻藩), but also as a post town on the Nikko-Kaido road (a road that use to go from Edo -former name for Tokyo- to Nikko). Nowadays, the castle grounds have been converted into Iwatsuki-koen park. During the spring season the views and sightseeing around Iwatsuki are beautiful. Crowds of people go to enjoy the cherry blossoms and its general views, when the 600 cherry trees bloom and can be seen from the red parapets of the Yatsuhashi bridge. Also, in order to remind the visitors and the local people the past times when Iwatsuki was a castle town, the Bell of Time (“toki-no-kane”, 時の鐘), built in the 17th century, will ring 3 times a day.


However, the importance and relevance of the city of Iwatsuki is a more traditional Japanese element: doll-making. Japanese dolls are a popular traditional world-wide known craft. The tradition of making dolls in Iwatsuki started around the 17th century, and became famous with the production of the traditional dolls commonly used all around Japan for different festivities. In Japan there are, for example, celebrations such as the Girls' Festival celebrations in March or the Boys' Festival celebration in May. In both cases, there are specific products used for de traditional celebration of these days and ceremonies.


For the girls' celebration it is famous the production of the “Hina-ningyo” dolls (雛人形). For the boys' celebration it is famous the production of the “Gogatsu-ningyo” dolls (五月人形).



The tradition of these doll-making process goes back in time to around 300 years ago. During the Edo period (1603-1868), it began the contemporary tradition of these dolls, symbolizing the spirit of the ceremony, as well as the characteristics praised and extolled in the celebrations. In the “Gogatsu-ningyo” dolls, for instance, the dolls are made with fierce expressions, wearing armours, and showing the courage, bravery and honour expected and traditional of the samurais. In the “Hina-ningyo” dolls traditional for the “Hinamatsuri”, in contrast, the dolls are made with the ornamental details and calmed and peaceful expression traditional when representing the Emperor, Empress and other court attendants and musicians of the Heian period (794-1185).


A bite of all this traditional dolls can be tasted in Iwatsuki. Hina-ningyo dolls, gogatsu-ningyo dolls, mechanical doll puppets or automata (karakuri-ningyo, からくり人形) and even antique dolls from abroad, all of theme are exhibited in the Togyoku Dolls Museum in Iwatsuki. Moreover, the Tokyu Dolls Exhibition Center shows the doll manufacturing process. Both of these institutions are located in the city.


The Togyoku Dolls Museum is based and developed on the outstanding Togyoku collection including the above mentioned dolls as well as battledore dolls (hagoita, 羽子板), costume dolls, puppets, wind-up mechanical dolls and the superb works of contemporary dollmakers masters.


It also includes a workshop where visitors can observe the doll-making process, a workshop for hands-on experiences in actually making horse picture tablets (ema, 絵馬), dolls and other items, as well as a shop that sells tiny Japanese small articles.


It is an attraction that offers a unique experience related to Japanese dolls production, view of exclusive exhibitions and tours to the studio, museum and other facilities.



The Tokyu Dolls Museum, on the other hand, exhibits around 1,000 dolls including dolls from long time ago in the past such as: the Iwatsuki ganso kamishimo hina doll as well as tachibana, Kaneibina, Genrokubina and Kyohobina.


It also exhibits contemporary works by contemporary dollmakers. It shows and explains the doll-making process, offers several articles and related items on display, as well as shop souvenirs.


Definitely, for an interesting and unique travel to the universe of Japanese doll-making, Iwatsuki is a must stop on any visitor's map. Feel the tradition and exceptional elements within Japan's culture through its doll-making tradition and symbolism.