Loading the doll and his glass case into the back seat of my car, I wedged the case in between some blankets and a sleeping teenager. Another teenager, surly and tired from waiting in the car while I’d chatted with the shop assistant and owner, looked over from the front seat. “Can we go now?”
I smiled at the beautifully silent doll. He smiled back. “Yes, we can go.”
There are visible creases at the shoulders and hip of his kimono where there once had been tucks sewn in. Such tucks serve to make kimono fit small children and allow for growth. When cloth is expensive and all clothing is hand sewn, it makes sense to find ways for a child’s garments to last more than a single season. Cutting and hemming would be impractical as, until recently, most families in Japan would have more than just one or two children; something outgrown today by the first child would likely fit the next child tomorrow.
He wears three layers, not including the hakama: A formal, crested kimono with a hand dyed nami usagi (rabbits over waves) design, and a white nagajuban in ivory. Both of these are padded at the hem. Beneath that lies the hadajuban in rust colored chirimen with a disintegrating black collar. I am assuming the deterioration of the fiber is due to metal oxides in the dye used to produce solid black.
His sage green chirimen heko obi had a strange feel to it, as if it had paper inside. I pulled out a pair of sharp scissors and picked out a few stitches. Lo and behold, a torn postcard revealed itself. I flattened it out and put it in a ziplock bag for safe keeping.
Everything he wears is silk. It’s quite likely he had tabi for his feet and perhaps other accessories, but they have been lost over time. The formality of his kimono and the quality of his clothing suggest that this doll was not originally intended for rough and tumble play, and indeed dolls such as this were not.
So where do you look for information on a doll like this one? Fortunately, I had a very good idea where to start. More about that in part III.