Ichimatsu: Japanese Play Dolls

Alan Scott Pate

The first book in English dedicated to the ichimatsu, Ichimatsu: Japanese Play Dolls is a lavishly illustrated presentation on the history and culture surrounding Japan’s most iconic doll. From its early origins in the 18th century depicting the celebrated kabuki actor Sanogawa Ichimatsu I to satisfy the hunger of his ardent fans, the ichimatsu transitioned into an articulated doll (mitsuore-ningyô) allowing for greater interaction and “play.” In the 19th century this morphed gradually into a depiction of an infant known as a daki-ningyô, fulfilling a number of social needs, as not only a play doll for children, but also serving as an emotional surrogate for childless women. From there, through commercialism and artistry, emerged the ichimatsu we are more familiar with today, depicting a young boy or girl dressed in fine kimono, resulting in the establishment of specific artistic lineages. This trajectory peeked with the 1927 Japanese Friendship Doll exchange and the creation of 58 exquisite dolls used as a diplomatic gesture of peace and goodwill. We continue with discussions on contemporary makers, and how to evaluate Japanese ichimatsu for quality; ultimately concluding with an extensive index of artist signatures and seals to help identify the makers of these amazing dolls.

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