A special kokeshi
As soon as we got our hands on this doll, we thought it was by a contemporary craftsman. Partly because of the almost perfect preservation, partly because of some variations on the Naruko style.
It is indeed easy to see that it belongs to the Naruko school, but it has some very special features. The very long, unfringed side tufts, the rounded ‘shoulders’, and above all the eyes: two eyelids and a large black pupil.
But next to the signature is a date: 1953. 70 years old! So we got curious, and started our research.
We discovered that it is a doll by master Yusa Fukuju, born in 1930 in Miyagi Prefecture into a family of craftsmen of the Naruko school.
His father was Takahashi Mori, apprentice in turn of his father Takahashi Kanji.
Fukuju remained in the family as his father’s apprentice together with his older brother Morio until 1957. We do not know what happened, but we do know that in that year he was adopted by the Yusa family and permanently separated from the Takahashi family as well as from the production of traditional (dento) kokeshi, switching to creative (sosaku) kokeshi.
We can assume that those innovations, already partly present in his grandfather’s kokeshi, were a first step towards the sosaku.
This doll was therefore made by a 23-year-old guy, born into a traditional family in northern Japan, who had overcome the war and was looking to his future with new eyes.
We believe that Fukuju did not have an easy life, but there’s an happy ending: already in 1960 (at the age of 30) he was awarded the Prime Minister’s prize for his kokeshi called Hoshu, treasure.
Want to know more? Here are our sources: