I love Kokeshi Dolls. They're probably one of my favorite Japanese souvenirs - and slowly but surely I have amassed quite the collection since living here! Usaburo Kokeshi Factory is the largest producer of Kokeshi dolls in Japan, from what I have discovered - and getting to go there and make my own Kokeshi doll has been a highlight of my time in Japan!
The factory is located in Gunma prefecture, about a 2 hour drive from Tokyo itself. They have a huge variety of Kokeshi dolls there - from the very traditional pieces, to more modern styles - I'm talking things like Disney/Pixar and Star Wars characters made into Kokeshi Dolls! I would really say there's something for everyone there, even if they're not necessarily the type that you think would be into wooden dolls.
We were lucky enough to get to tour the back of the factory, and see the employees hard at work carving kokeshi bodies from pieces of wood!
On the workbench above, you can see Pikachu, Miffy the Rabbit and Mike and Sully (from the movie Monsters Inc.) Kokeshi Dolls! I love the organized chaos of the workbench, and I also love that they've taken the kokeshi concept and turned it into something with a really modern appeal here too!
Check out all the wood shavings on the floor!
Now, when it came to actually making my own kokeshi, I was a little nervous! I'm not someone that I would classify as artistic in any way, and I didn't really know where to start when it came to painting my own! All things considered, I think she turned out pretty cute, though!
The dolls here in the above picture are being lacquered and dried - it truly is quite the procedure from start to finish, and definitely gave me a new appreciation for true kokeshi artists who make it look easy!
If you're in the Gunma area, or just looking for a unique, hands on craft experience whilst here in Japan, I would highly recommend paying a trip to the Usaburo Kokeshi Factory. It was something my friends and I thoroughly enjoyed! They have an excellent gift shop where you can purchase ready-made beautiful creations, and they also have an online store that you can shop from too, or even browse to get an idea of what they have available!