Doll-Making in Japan 2017: From Hinamatsuri(GirlsDay) to Busu Ningyo (Ugly Woman)Dolls

June 19, 2017 Yoko Lewis

Japanese Dolls in Kimono

Doll Making in Japan 2017:
From Classical to Japanese Cabbage Patch?

Contemporary Trends in DIY Japan:
Japanese Vintage Fabrics Crafts
古布細工 (kofuzaiku -- old fashioned crafts)


From time to time we find tiny miniature kimonos mixed in with our large imported shipments of vintage adult and children's kimonos. As these mini-kimonos are rather rare we usually offer them in auction. We find that many people are fascinated by Japanese dolls so we thought we would write a short info piece on them. However, at the same time we were doing some background research on the subject, Yoko's sister in Japan sent some pictures from a local (Kyushu, Southern Japan) event where DIY vintage fabric crafters and doll-makers showed off their work in year 2017.

After poking around the Japanese language web we discovered the wide range of doll-making and other fabric arts going on in Japan nowadays, much of it centered around using upcycled -- vintage -- Japanese kimono fabrics.  So we decided to share with our site visitors some of the remarkable dolls we found in Japanese language web sites as well as some pictures from a recent kofuzaiku event in southern Japan. Thus, this blog post...


When conjuring up an image of a Japanese doll, perhaps the first thing that pops  into one's mind is an  image of a Japanese doll in kimono, such as the classic set of Girls Day Dolls (Hinamatsuri Ningyo) arranged on a stand. They are  meticulously hand-made and cost thousands of dollars, all in line with traditional aesthetic themes common in Japanese arts and culture, sort of like these:

 Emperor & Empress of Hinamatsuri Doll set
March 3rd every year, Hinamatsuri dolls on display


Or, perhaps you might envision the types below --our own personal favorite -- Hakata Ningyo (Fukuoka, (Kyushu) Beauty Doll):

Hakata bijin 1, pinterest.com

or, the more common but nonetheless gorgeous Hakata Ningyo like the one in our living room which is similar to this below:

hakata bijin 2 pinterest.com


 But I doubt that when thinking about "Japanese Dolls" you would imagine what is hot now among Japanese doll and textile DIY hobbyists in Japan: They are called Busu Ningyo -- or, "Ugly Woman Doll".  When I first saw these I thought, "OMG, a Japanese version of a Cabbage Patch Doll, only not nearly as cute!" .

1980s USA Cabbage Patch Dolls1980s Cabbage Patch Dolls

For our younger readers, this was a huge craze in the USA in the 80's and collectors are still buying and selling them on ebay and elsewhere on-line. While there are many truly 'Ugly Dolls' to be found on the internet world-wide (some of them actually grotesque but we skipped them for this article), let's take a look at a busu ningyo which was on display in Japan earlier this year (2017):

traditional Japanese doll

Comment:  I was surprised when my sisters used the term "Busu Ningyo"  to describe this new fad among Japanese DIY crafters because the term  "busu"  is a bad word, as it not only means homely and actually ugly, but has a connotation (for we older Japanese) of the term as meaning a woman who is unclean or shameful. So imagine my surprise when my younger sisters named these dolls  'busu, ugly dolls'.

Below is a sampling of these type and other types dolls we found at a 2017 show and on Japanese language websites linked to below our pictures here -- note that all use vintage kimono fabrics (images from dollshun.com):

 Other modern doll-making in Japan using vintage kimono fabrics-dollshun.com-1

Other modern doll-making in Japan using vintage kimono fabrics-dollshun.com-2

Other modern doll-making in Japan using vintage kimono fabrics-dollshun.com-2

Other modern doll-making in Japan using vintage kimono fabrics-dollshun.com-4

dollshun.com doll 5

To browse the remarkable creativity and variation of what Japanese hobbyists and professional doll makers are up to in Japan today (2017) check out pictures at following Japanese language websites:



Google Image Search in Japanese







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