Ornamental dolls play quite a big role in Japanese tradition and culture, and as such, there’s quite a variety when it comes to their types.
Perhaps the most commonly displayed are the hina dolls, which, during the three days of Hinamatsuri in March, fill tiered platforms as part of a celebratory tradition which prays for the good health and wellbeing of growing girls. Other popular and commonly displayed dolls include the kokeshi dolls of the Tohoku region, as well as daruma dolls which are believed to be bringers of good luck.
A lesser known type of doll is the beautifully handcrafted kimekomi doll.

Sometimes known as ‘wood and cloth dolls’, or Kamo-ningyo, kimekomi dolls are believed to have been first invented in the middle of the 18th century by Takahashi Tadashige, a carving artist who was serving at Kyoto’s Kamigamo Shrine.
These first dolls carved by Takahashi are said to have been made of willow tree wood. After shaping, Takahashi would wrap the carving in kimono material which he would attach to grooves cut into the wood. This technique of fixing material to the carving earned the doll the name ‘wood and cloth dolls’; and despite the declined use of willow tree wood, the traditional method of ‘dressing’ kimekomi dolls is still used by craftsmen today.

As for why these dolls aren’t as well known as their hinamatsuri counterparts, that could be down to the fact that only one doll-making company has ever been officially certified as a kimekomi crafting company by Kamigamo Shrine.
The sole owner of that approval is Mataro Ningyo, a traditional Japanese doll-making company that was founded back in 1919.

Though the majority of Mataro Ningyo’s lineup features dolls inspired by Japanese mythological figures, the company has recently begun to offer a collection of dolls that merge the traditional techniques of kimekomi woodworking with modern cult classics such as Kirby and Pokemon.

As would be expected, the first character to make it into Mataro Ningyo’s Pokemon lineup was Pikachu, who became available to purchase back in 2019. In 2020, Pikachu was joined by a beautifully crafted kimekomi version of Miltank in celebration of the Year of the Ox, and earlier this year by adorable fan favourite Eevee. Now, in the latest release, Mataro Ningyo’s Pokemon lineup will include legendary electric-type pokemon Raikou.

Just like the release of Mataro Ningyo’s Miltank, the addition of Raikou is in celebration of the upcoming change of the zodiac year, which from the 1st of February 2022 will be the Year of the Tiger.
By decorating the home with this modern version of a traditional doll, Mataro Ningyo hopes that more people can come into contact with and appreciate the importance of classic Japanese crafts.

Keeping true to the character’s appearance, the kimekomi Raikou doll features the Pokemon’s distinct facial patterns, bright contrasting colours and cloud-shaped tail. From the wood carving inside, to the placement and shaping of the kimono fabric wrapping, great care has been taken by Mataro Ningyo’s craftsmen to produce a Raikou kimekomi doll of the highest quality.

The Edo Kimekomi Ningyo Raikou is available in limited numbers from Mataro Ningyo's online store for 17,600 yen

Price: 17,600 yen (tax included)
Body size: Frontage 65mm, Depth 100mm, Height 110mm
Set contents: Kimekomi doll Raikou / stand / folding screen / wooden name plaque

By - Connie Sceaphierde.