From Lifelike Doll Artisan to Doll Master: Genius Hirata Gôyô’s Path
By Kobayashi Sumie. Photographs courtesy of Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, & Yokohama Doll Museum : Excerpt from Daruma 48
Everyone accepts that the features common to Living National Treasure, Hirata Gôyô II’s (1903-1981) works are his consummate technique and the “scent” his dolls emit—a kind of spirit they have. What are the secrets of his style? In order to find the key to this question, I will start by tracing his life.
The Hirata family’s doll-making started with Gôyô I (Gôyô II’s father) who originally belonged to a group of lifelike doll artisans. Iki-ningyô (lifelike dolls) are not familiar to Japanese today. The name was given to dolls which aimed at total realism: life size, a full set of features including each wrinkle and moustache on faces, or muscles and blood vessels on hands and feet. The style of lifelike dolls is partially handed down through kiku-ningyô (chrysanthemum figures) or dashi-ningyô (figures displayed on dashi or festival floats).
Lifelike dolls were used at misemono or lifelike-doll shows held in the amusement quarters of big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, from the late Edo to early Meiji eras (mid-later 19th c.). The shows used the dolls to reproduce hit kabuki plays, fictional stories in books or sensational events of the time. As the dolls were lifelike, they caught ordinary people’s attention and often appeared in ukiyo-e.
There were two master artisans: Matsumoto Kisaburô (1825-91) and Yasumoto Kamehachi (1826-1900) from Kumamoto. Unfortunately, Kisaburô left no successor, but the Kamehachis went on for three generations in Tokyo.
The three were equally competent artisans, and especially Kamehachi III (1868-1946) made excellent dashi-ningyô from the mid-Meiji to early Shôwa eras (1890-1930) and mannequins which began to be produced in ca. 1904. Hirata Gôyô I was a pupil of Kamehachi III.
The author is the chief of the reference library of Yoshitoku (a traditional doll maker in Asakusa, Tokyo). This article first appeared in Rokushô vol. 19 “World of Dolls by Hirata Gôyô, Living National Treasure” published by Maria Shobô, Kyoto in 2003. You can read the rest of this article by purchasing Daruma 48 from our Back Issues page.