Kokeshi Dolls - A Companion to People's Lives

Located in the mountains of northwestern Miyagi Prefecture,
the Naruko Hot Spring Village has long been known as a therapeutic hot spring resort.
Since the end of the Edo period (1603-1868),
the "Naruko Kokeshi Doll" has been famous as a good-luck charm
wishing for children's healthy development.
In the Taisho and Showa eras, Naruko Kokeshi dolls became popular as souvenirs
and developed into crafts for aesthetic pleasure.
The simple appearance of kokeshi dolls can be observed in various facets of our daily lives.
The Sakurai Kokeshi shop hopes to bring more comfort and richness into people's lives.
We make kokeshi dolls daily, valuing tradition and creative expression.

The Sakurai Family Kokeshi Dolls

  • The Sakurai Family's History and Aspirations

    The Sakurai family has been associated with the kijishi (wood artisans) lineage for generations since the end of the Edo period. It started with Matagoro Onuma, who is said to be the founder of Naruko Kokeshi Dolls. Currently, the fifth generation, Akihiro Sakurai, and the sixth generation, Naomichi, are making kokeshi dolls, carrying on the traditions of their predecessors. The Sakurai family is known as one of the oldest families among the Naruko kokeshi artisans and has produced many master artisans since before World War II. Predecessors have constantly challenged themselves with new ideas of the respective era. While we carry on the tradition, it is the hands of each generation's craftsmen who create new kokeshi dolls that will lead to the development of the next generation.

  • Traditional Kokeshi Dolls

    "Traditional kokeshi dolls" have "kata" named after their predecessors, and the abundance of kata inherited from the previous generation is one of the charms of the Sakurai family's kokeshi dolls. Our traditional kokeshi dolls are not reproductions of our predecessors' kata. We understand the background and aspirations of our predecessors and try to create traditional kokeshi dolls of today with the sensitivity and interpretation of the current artisans.

  • Naruko Kokeshi Dolls

    This is a standard series handed down across Naruko. There are a variety of shapes, such as "Tachiko," which has a narrow hem, "Nemariko," which is a seated figure, and "Ejiko," which represents a baby in a basket. The flower patterns on the body include the "Overlapping chrysanthemum" patterns depicting chrysanthemums seen from the side and the "Diamond chrysanthemums" pattern depicting chrysanthemums seen from the front, with the gorgeous colors also being a characteristic of Naruko Kokeshi.

  • Creative Kokeshi Dolls

    The "Reflections" are creative kokeshi dolls designed to fit modern lifestyles and incorporate fluorescent and light pastel colors that have never been used in kokeshi dolls before. In addition, we are also working on creating kokeshis that are not bound by standard or traditional molds, such as a series that use natural dyes and those that focus on the woodwork without using painted colors.

  • Wooden Dolls and Seasonal Decorations

    Various dolls and decorations have been made in Japan since ancient times as good luck charms to wish people happiness and health, such as "Hina Dolls" and "Gogatsu (May) Dolls" to pray for the healthy growth of children, and "Kagamimochi" to welcome the God of the New Year. The Sakurai family also uses kokeshi doll-making techniques to create dolls and seasonal decorations that connect Japanese culture.


  • Akihiro Sakurai

    Born in Naruko in 1951.
    The fifth generation of the Sakurai family, a lineage of kijishi artisans. He acquired the highest award in all three major kokeshi doll competitions. In May 2022, he won the highest award at the Shiraishi Kokeshi Doll Festival.

  • Naomichi Sakurai

    Born in Naruko in 1988.
    The sixth generation of the Sakurai family. Under his father, Akihiro, he produces traditional kokeshi dolls of various types, kiji-hina (wooden dolls), and creative kokeshi dolls of original modern designs. He is also actively engaged in kokeshi doll making, inheriting his grandfather Shoji's foot-pedal potter's wheel technique.

Kokeshi Doll Making

  • It all starts with facing the wood

    When the air is cool, one can almost hear the winter winds, and the wood arrives at the workshop. The Sakurai family's kokeshi dolls are made using wood from the mountains of the Tohoku region. Making kokeshi dolls begins with facing the wood amid nature, and feeling the changing colors of the four seasons in Naruko Onsen.

  • Drying of logs <Autumn>

    Trees cut in the fall, when the trees stop growing, are dried on site for a while with their leaves still on. Then the branches are removed and delivered to the workshop before the snow falls. Until the trees arrive, we sharpen the blades of the barking tools and prepare the scaffolding and roof for the drying area.

  • Drying of logs <Winter>

    Once the wood arrives, the bark is peeled by hand, layer by layer, using a tool called a bangagi. The peeled trees are assembled into well-shaped arrangements and roofed over to dry naturally. After the bark is buried under snow, it is dug up. Shoveling snow in winter is also essential to the craftsman's work.

  • Drying of logs <Spring>

    To prevent the wood from splitting due to sudden changes in temperature, the condition of each piece of timber is assessed individually, and only those that have reached an advanced stage of drying are moved to the drying process in the workshop. As the climate and conditions of the wood change each year, we patiently face the difficulties of natural drying.

  • Drying of logs <Summer>

    When the area around the workshop is covered with fresh greenery, the wells are dismantled and moved to the workshop to protect the wood from rain and humidity before the rainy season. The wood is sawn to the size of kokeshi dolls and further dried indoors.

  • Kiji-biki (Kiji grinding)

    The wood is fixed to the axis of a potter's wheel and rotated to shave it into the shape of a kokeshi doll. All tools are handmade, including a plane for shaving the wood and carving patterns and a thin blade for smoothing out rough edges. The "Hamekomi Shiki," a technique unique to Naruko where the body and head are carved and assembled separately, is also the result of skilled workmanship.

  • Paintings and Colors

    Kokeshi dolls are brought to life through the use of fine brush strokes. The face resembling a child's face, the mizuhiki hand on the head symbolizing celebration, and the chrysanthemum pattern on the body are characteristics of traditional Naruko kokeshi. Each kokeshi is painted by hand, giving it a unique appearance.

  • Tool Making

    The Sakurai family has a tradition from the previous generation that tools must be beautiful and clean. They make all of their own tools, such as the kana-bo (plane stick) and thin-blade knives, and also do the forging work. They also make the tools used to polish kokeshi dolls by binding together plants called tokusa and inagusa, and they cultivate the plants used as materials for these tools. The Sakurai family's passion for kokeshi doll making is also contained in their tools.

naruko Onsen

Lifestyle and Crafts Born from the Hot Springs Climate

Sakurai Kokeshi Doll Shop is located in Naruko Onsen, a hot spring resort known
as a therapeutic hot spring in the mountains of northwestern Miyagi Prefecture.
The hot spring is said to have erupted in 837 due to a large explosion at Lagoon Mountain
and has a history of over 1,000 years as a hot spring resort.
Surrounded by mountains, this hot spring resort is blessed with abundant nature,
offering charm in the four seasons.
People gather at the hot springs, the town changes each season,
and crafts are born from nature's bounty.
People's lives and industries, which have developed along with
the climate of this land, are still alive today.

Attractions of Naruko Onsen

  • Hot Springs

    Japan has 11 different types of onsen, of which eight are classified as hot springs. The color of the water varies from cloudy white to greenish white, blue, and brown, and sometimes changes depending on the weather.

  • Rich Nature

    There are sightseeing spots where one can feel the richness of nature, such as "Naruko Gorge," a 100-meter-deep gorge with beautiful fresh greenery in spring and colored leaves in fall, and the"Lagoon," an acidic caldera lake created by an eruption whose surface changes color depending on the season and weather. In winter, the area is deep in snow and crowded with many skiers.

  • Naruko Kokeshi Dolls

    Naruko kokeshi dolls are said to have originated about 200 years ago when a kijishi (wood artisan) made them as toys for children. The kokeshi dolls, which were popular as toys for children in mountain villages, developed as souvenirs from hot spring resorts and became widely known and appreciated by the cultural figures and collectors of the time.

  • Naruko Lacquer Ware

    Blessed with high-quality wood and lacquer, Naruko lacquerware has developed as an industry in Naruko and is said to have started more than 350 years ago. In 1991 it was designated as a traditional national craft, and even today, artisans have workshops in Naruko.