Japanese Geisha Doll – wafuku.co.uk

wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing

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I took some photos of a Japanese geisha doll I own, to show here. This is my own doll, not one for sale on my vintage kimono site.

Her face, hands and feet are wood that is covered in gofun, which is powdered oyster shells. Gofun gives a finish rather like porcelain. Her dark brown eyes are glass. She is in the midst of a dance, one of the arts of a geisha. Geisha actually means artist and they learn many arts, including dance, musicianship and the art of conversation.

Her hair is real, though probably yak hair, which grows long enough to make an excellent facsimile of human hair. Real maiko and geisha suffer greatly for their hair; to achieve the styles they traditionally wear, it has to be waxed, then combed painfully into shape, swept back from their faces. Many geisha eventually develop a bald spot because the hair is pulled back so tightly in the centre and fastened like that. Rather than be upset by this, they tend to be proud of it, as it is a mark of a geisha. To maintain the hairstyle, they must sleep using a takamakura; a tiny neck pillow raised on a support, keeping the head above the bed, so the hair does not get messed up during sleep. While maiko must have their own hair styled, many opt for the use of wigs after they become geisha. The hair has to be restyled every five days or so and they cannot wash it.

The doll’s hair has 3 kougai (hairpins) and other kanzashi (hair ornaments), like the traditional, large comb in the centre

Her parasol is bamboo, covered in the finest, sheer silk and does actually open. Her little feet have gofun tabi socks. Shoes are not usually worn indoors in Japan, particularly in the tea houses where geisha are hostesses

The kimono is silk, with a yuzen (hand applied) artwork on it and a thickly padded hem, designed to trail on the ground. A padded hem makes a trailing kimono always lie nicely on the ground, when dancing the geisha moves the hem around with little, elegant flicks of her feet.

The neck of her kimono is pulled low at the back. Kimonos are worn with the neck pulled down at the back and the younger the wearer, the further down it is worn. Geisha and maiko wear it lower than the average person. The neck is considered very sensuous and sexy in Japan, so revealing the neck and emphasising it with white make up is considered very attractive. It is pretty much the equivalent of showing cleavage here in the West.

The obi is deep at the front, with the usual obiage around the top of the sash (you can see part of the red obiage threaded through the top of the obi’s rear knot) and a russet obijime, which is a cord tied around the centre of the obi sash (also threaded through the rear knot, it is visible at the front of the obi in the last photo). The obi knot is tied asymmetrically, though strictly speaking, it is not really tied, it is folded into shape with the obiage and obijime holding it in place

The kimono is a lovely grey colour but, as can be seen in the photo below, was originally blue. The dyes used in old blue silks (and many purples) seem to fade faster than any other colour but I particularly like the grey shade it has faded to over the years. It was already grey when I bought it. I used to have more dolls but, with my collection of Japanese items getting out of hand, I decided to keep only this one.




  1. I just purchased 6 dolls from a gentleman whose brother was assigned to Japan years ago. The dolls are all dressed differently and are all in great condition. How would I go about getting a value on these girls?

    Thanks, Analisa

    1. I’m not really sure. I’m no expert on dolls, I’m better with kimonos, and my pricing is simply based on what things cost me, with a bit of mark-up to cover site costs etc. and time. It also depends on how quickly you want to sell an item. Sorry I can’t be more helpful, I’m not sure where one might go to find an expert on dolls.


  3. We just acquired a ningyo that is so unlike anything we have seen before that we could not ignore. We’re trying to find out something about it. It is about 17″ tall, fastened to its lacquer wood stand, and appears to be quite old. The way that is fastened to the stand indicates that it never had shoes, only tabu. In addition to underclothes, it has three beautiful and very elaborate kimonos, the outer one being light golden brocade with a variety of flowers and plants. The middle kimono is orange and beige, and the inner kimono is solid ivory. The hems of all three kimonos are rolled and padded and pool on the floor much like western bridal gowns. The obi is patterned brown brocade. The doll is wearing only one sleeve of the outer kimono, no doubt to expose the colors of the middle kimono. The other sleeve of the outer kimono hangs loose across her back and down on the side. The visible inner clothes are sold bright red, from neck to ankle. The hair do is quite distinctive in as much as it has a small part in the front middle, long bang-like strands to the shoulder on each side of the face, and the rest of the hair is gathered into a sort of pony tale that hangs down her back all the way to the floor! The “outfit” clearly seems to be of the Tokugawa period, but I have been unable to find pictures of anything like the elaborate getup and hair style. The doll seems to be quite old–I would guess the 1940’s, perhaps. Any ideas?

    1. I’m not at all good at dating things, least of all dolls.
      I too have had dolls wearing layers of kimonos, with the outer kimono having only one sleeve worn, a popular fashion at one time. That may be Edo period (Tokugawa period) but I’m not expert enough to be certain.
      As dolls are often made in old styles/fashions, the style of clothing and hair don’t help date the doll itself, of course.
      I assume yours has a gofun face, hands and feet, which is made from ground shells but looks like porcelain. Contemporary dolls tend to be plastic.
      I’m sorry I can’t help you date the doll.

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