Thursday, March 3, 2011

Antique Geisha "Ningyo" Dolls

In writing a story on antique Ningyo dolls, I have learned a bit about the Japanese culture, as one always learns about fascinating places and times when researching the history of antiques. In Japanese, the word Ningyo translates to “human shape,” and the culture of such dolls traces back to the 11th-century Heian Period. They were once believed to possess the power to keep bad spirits at bay. Keeping away bad spirits would be a bonus; I just think they're exquisitely crafted bits of fancy, these darling ningyo. 
These dolls often represent geisha, which is a visual culture all to its own. Here the doll in the foreground wears a stylised version of the yakko shimada hairstyle worn by senior maiko for high occasions (I found these fabulous photos at 
How beautiful is this geisha's painted face? I can't tell if it is finished in the traditional gofun paste of which such dolls were often made, of of the "silk-skin" technique, which is a cloth doll-making technique. Either way, I just adore her sweet countenance, with the little rosebud mouth and diminutive features. During World War II these geisha dolls were called sakura ningyo ("cherry-blossom doll”); they found a ready market with military personnel who brought them back to the U.S. I bought such a doll 10 years ago in New York City at an outdoor antique market for $50. I happened to be broke at the time, but I loved her, so I had to have her. She now sits in my dining room, evidently chasing away the bad spirits from all of meals. Maybe that's why my banana pudding always turns out so divine? 


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