Vintage Kokeshi, signed by the artist, Masami Kato
Kokeshi originated from the north of Japan, in the mountainous Tohoku region, a popular hot springs area. Histories tell us that the local wood workers used excess pieces of timber to craft simple toys and teething aids for the local children. During the 1800's, many people started to visit the onsen (hot spring inns) in Tohoku and the toys became popular souvenirs to take home.
Kokeshi can be broadly divided into two types: traditional (dento) and creative (sosaku). The traditional kokeshi were first made during the Edo period, some sources suggest, as early as the 1600's. Certainly by the late 19th century they had gained popularity throughout Japan and are still made to this day. Sosaku kokeshi production began at the end of the Second World War.