A Place For Dolls

I make dolls and I have always thought that my dolls speaks themselves, so I have never felt the need to speak for them. In fact, I have always found rather difficult to talk to about my dolls and about myself.Nevertheless ,when I started thinking about what I would write here, what I realized that over the years, as I have made my dolls, certain words kept coming to my mind. In a sense, my dolls were made with words. I know this may sound strange, but those words have played a necessary role in my doll-making.

One keywords is "man". I began making dolls when I was thirty-six years old. Until then, people often described me as a "big bear of a man", and that's I'd even come to see myself. It wasn't something I was particularly self-conscious about? I just took it for granted, and I had confidence in myself as a man. But by the time I was in my mid-thirties, I'd become totally dissatisfied as with my works and my own image of myself?I was a teacher, and all my relationships with people were dependent on verbal communication.

It was around that time that my first child was born. I quit my job and started looking for the kind of work that would allow me to spend more time with my child, the kind of work that didn't require a lot of superfluous talk. That's when I started making dolls. My parents were in the doll business and it was an important factor in my decision, and absolutely no idea about the kinds of dolls I wanted to make. Frankly, I was frustrated and discouraged. I guess I was grasping at straws, but I just wanted to find a way of making a living and being with my child.

I realized that switching careers at that age wouldn't be easy, but since doll-making requires practical, technical skills, I felt that if I applied myself seriously, I was bound to make progress. The greatest problem I faced in my pursuit of dolls and doll-making was a deeply personal one: my image of myself -- the "man" within me -- was totally inadequate.

I saw the world of dolls as the exclusive preserve if women and children. Though now I know that this is profoundly untrue, I had to discover it for myself, to find the depth and resonance of my place as a man in this world. I realized that in order to move forward, I had to invent new images of and words for myself, but I was still filled with doubt. Without really being aware of it, I was in the process of fundamentally reevaluating the "man" within me. Looking back at it now, it was a valuable experience, but at the time it felt as if I was destroying something inside me. At the same time, I had a had a hunch that if I were able to experience this new world not from the outside, but from within, it would open up a whole new life for me. With mixed feelings, I grappled with the problem of doll-making.

Although I looked at many dolls and eagerly read books about them, I don't think it had much effect on me. I would not go so far as to say that such things don't have their place, but what I saw seemed to be based on assumptions and customs, such as the Doll Festival celebrated every year in March and May. Even if I were to use traditional techniques, those basic assumptions couldn't provide me with a unique framework for my own creations, because I had no real point of departure. My sensibilities, of course, had nothing to do with dolls: I was just like every other average person living in the twentieth century. For me, the dolls that were made for those with purist or traditional tastes could only ever exists in a secret and locked room, sealed off from the present and far away from me. No matter how splendid the dolls lived inside that room, they could never survive on the outside. This was the only way that I was able to relate to dolls and doll-making.

Somehow I had to deal with these two contradictory ideas: the present and the secret, closed room. I searched for a place outside that room, a larger and more open space where we live our ordinary lives, a place where dolls can breath freely. In such a place, dolls could exist in the vivid present. If I could find a new space for my dolls, I might also be able to create a new space for my own life. My feelings could be summed up by our studio motto at the time: "We have no limits, so we can do anything."

Even so, to many non-Japanese , our dolls may seem traditionally Japanese. Their costumes are miniature version of cloths that people actually used to wear; the oldest use kimono fabric from the late Edo period(1600-1867). The faces and bodies are made of pulverized seashells, kneaded and formed with a natural organic glue?an extremely traditional method. In that sense, they are definitely one small example of Japan’s traditional culture. They embody the aesthetics of traditional Japanese folk craft skills in the weaving and dyeing of their kimonos, and as their maker, that’s something in which I take great pride. Yet I feel it would be unfortunate to stop at the traditional aspect of my dolls.

The only reason I continue to work with antique kimonos and traditional methods is to express my own inner vision. What is the most important to me is neither the materials nor the methods, but the image projected by the doll. If that image liberates the doll from a closed world and allows it to enter the present, then there can be a fresh encounter between the doll and those who see it.

Dolls "speak" only trough their facial expressions and the postures of their bodies. But they can be a medium through which people encounter them may begin to communicate. At exhibitions, total strangers looking at my dolls would begin to talk to each other about their childhood, what their families were like then, and the joys and sorrows of their lives. I'd expected to hear more about the dolls` faces or clothes, but instead the conversations led in all sorts of different directions. One visitor, an editor who was over fifty years old, left a deep impression on me. In a slightly embarrassed tone, she wrote that seeing my dolls had reawakened the young girl within her. I've also received letters from people I've never met.

Through these experiences I've realized that dolls are capable of provoking words between and within people. Those who look at dolls also look inside themselves, and words begin to emerge, bringing with them long-buried memories of childhood and family. These are not just reminiscences or nostalgia, but are connected in a vital way to the lives those people are living now.

The dolls at the true center of these exchanges are not the dolls I've made, but all the dolls that have one time or another been hugged or spoken to, torn or damaged and left forgotten in the corner of a room. Through my dolls, people recall the dolls that they played and cried with in small dramas in countless families long ago. I believe my dolls can bring all of this into the living present, and this belief has been a source of great satisfaction and comfort to me.

Dolls are wonderful things, small and pretty, but they are capable of opening deeper dimensions. In fact unexpected depth and expanse, I have found the words and the place I was searching for.