ABOUT Tsutsumi dolls
A thirteenth generation craftsman produces beautiful dolls through build-to-order manufacturing.
Tsutsumi dolls are made out of clay and developed in Sendai. It attracts viewers with its beautiful figures like the Hina doll (female doll for girls’ festival), with the elegant smile, or a Kabuki actor striking a pose. The doll originated in Tsutsumicho, Sendai, a well-known pottery town. During the wintertime, soil became frozen and ceramists could not make pottery, so they started to color unglazed Tsutsumi dolls.
In the Edo period, Sendai clan’s 4th feudal lord, Tsunamura Date (1659 ~1719), invited ceramist Mannemon Kamimura from Edo (present day Tokyo) for a visit. Mannemon suggested improvements and refined the crafting of the Tsutsumi doll. From 1804 to 1830, the popularity of the Tsutsumi doll prospered, and it was considered one of the two major clay dolls, along with the Fushimi doll from Kyoto, among others such as the Hanamaki doll in Iwate and Miharu doll in Fukushima.
One of the big characteristics of the Tsutsumi doll is the use of the color red. Craftsmen in the Edo period finished dyeing a doll using imported sappan wood, which had been difficult to obtain in Japan under the closed‐door policy. Craftsmen do not use sappan wood nowadays, and instead use dyes, which last longer and creates the impressive bright red on Tsutsumi dolls.
The Ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints and paintings produced between the 17th and the 20th centuries) like dolls made Tsutsumi dolls famous and flourish during the Edo period. Craftsmen used their skill to make dolls with expressions on the modeled faces of Kabuki actors, Sumo wrestlers and Oiran courtesans on Ukiyo-e print, that appeared very life-like.
Besides these kinds of motifs, there were other various styles of Tsustumi dolls created such as the Inari (god of harvests, later worshipped as the guardian deity of an area), or a pair of stone guardian dogs (placed at the gate or in front of a Shinto shrine), or a Hina doll representing the folk belief. In addition, the unglazed and unpainted with dye doll seemed to be loved as a toy and a teething ring for babies. Tsutsumi dolls were not as expensive like other Japanese dolls, so even common people could get them anytime.
With the change of the lifestyle, the Tsutsumi doll has gradually disappeared from current living scenes. However, the Tsutsumi doll still manages to attract new fans with its sweetness.
The craftsman at “Haga Tsutsumi Doll Workshop” is the thirteenth generation since Bunka period (1804~1818), to continue to make the doll and he still produces it by special build-to-order manufacturing without wholesale to the department stores, and there seems to be no end to the inquiries from collectors. There will always be people that love the Tsutsumi dolls.