Saturday, October 13, 2007

Iki Ningyo: Lifelike Dolls

I'm sorry! You must feel like I've neglected you, my online reader. I have been moving and working and doing other things. I have also not found anything sufficiently cool to put on this blog..until this morning. I decided to go to Japantown to intentionally spend money frivolously. I wanted to go to Sharaku, also known as "That tiny store that sells $10 antique obis" and get some old hairpins. Sadly, they were closed. (Sharaku is pretty much open whenever the little old ladies who own it decide they want to go to work.) So I instead wandered around the Japantown mall. I was walking past the store that I think is some sort of senior activity centre when I spied a large doll in the back.
I'm attracted to large japanese dolls like a fish is attracted to shinny objects, so I went in.
The doll was about a foot and half tall and dressed in a deep purple silk kimono with all the fancy trappings. She had a few paper cranes shoved in her bosom that probably weren't supposed to be living there. And her face was extremely lifelike.
This doll was the work of a master.
Every once in a while on my quest for random Japanese things, I'll encounter a picture of an Iki Ningyo, or Lifelike Doll. These were created in the Meiji period by doll artists Kisaburo Matsumoto and others. They were created primarily as exhibition pieces. The dolls were characters from history or from popular theater depicted with stunning realism. They were generally a lot taller than this doll and a little more elaborate in costume. Many of the Iki Ningyo that I've seen pictures of are almost grotesque in their depiction of musculature,* though the definition and angular qualities of this one's face seem similar to some of the museum pieces I've seen online.
In short, this doll looks like an antique Iki Ningyo but I wouldn't be too quick to categorize it. I don't think I've ever seen an Iki Ningyo come up on ebay or yahoo japan, though every once in a while you will see amazingly beautiful mannequin heads from the same time period and made of wood and gofun (Oyster-shell paste)
Of course I asked if it was for sale, and of course it was not. (And if it was, I'd probably never be able to afford it!) It is certain that its owner has a treasure.
* Click on the one of the brownish looking man with the red hair.

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