Kinosaki Inspirations

A Hot Spring Classic: Kokeshi Dolls and Kinosaki Onsen

  • A visit to Kinosaki Onsen calls for hot spring-hopping, yukata-clad strolls, and, as with any vacation, picking through shop after shop for that elusive, one-of-a-kind souvenir to bring back on the plane. Kokeshi dolls, a traditional Japanese doll boasting over 150 years of history as a popular toy of choice for children and antique collectors alike, were originally exclusive to the Tohoku region of northern Japan. As popularity for these wooden dolls grew due to their sturdy, child-friendly design, demand for kokeshi dolls boomed across the country, and what once were sold primarily as a souvenir for hot spring-bound visitors to the Tohoku region soon secured a spot among the most famous and beloved toys for Japanese children.

  • As word of kokeshi dolls spread down south to the Kansai region where Kinosaki Onsen is located, the locals of the town decided to mix the original hot spring roots of the kokeshi doll with Straw Craft (known as Mugiwara Zaiku in Japanese), Kinosaki Onsen's local folk craft with over 300 years of history. Soon straw craftsmen were seen cutting pieces of wheat straw dyed in vibrant colors and creating extravagant, finely detailed designs - in lieu of the usual boxes and spinning tops decorated with Straw Craft, however, kokeshi dolls were becoming adorned with these elaborate motifs and sold as souvenirs to hot spring-goers just as in the Tohoku region.

  • With the number of straw craftsmen dwindling more and more with every passing generation (only four certified craftsmen remain), organizations such as regional revitalization teams and local workshops have started initiatives to reinvigorate the Straw Craft industry. One such group comprises the artists of Ebisu Mingei, an art collective shop nestled right in the action of the willow-lined streets of town. Merging the traditional with the modern, Straw Craft creations sold in Ebisu Mingei include cell phone straps, bookmarks, jewelry, and even drink coasters. Every product sold is carefully crafted by local artisans, both professionals and students eager to hand the artform down to future generations and promote it worldwide.

  • Miss Harumi, an employee of Ebisu Mingei and the nearby Straw Craft Museum, has been participating in the Straw Craft community for over ten years.

    Now, she is known for her splendidly designed kokeshi dolls, donning lovely blooms of cherry blossoms, wisteria, and other seasonal florals. During a walk between hot springs, visitors are more than welcome to pop into Ebisu Mingei for some shopping and a look at Miss Harumi's beautiful creations.
    For a locally produced, Kinosaki Onsen-exclusive souvenir, visitors will be hard-pressed to pass up the glossy, sustainably sourced style delivered in a Straw Craft creation.

    After visiting Ebisu Mingei, be sure to stop into Kinosaki Onsen's Straw Craft Museum for more information on Straw Craft, hands-on DIY experiences, and more Straw Craft kokeshi dolls from past artisans.

  • About

    Danielle Leveille

    Danielle Leveille

    Junior Local Expert

    Originally from Chicago in the USA. She currently works for Visit Kinosaki as a coordinator for international relations. A lover of Tajima beef and hidden sightseeing spots, she can be found either at one of her favorite restaurants or exploring a secret nook in town.