After removing the layers of kimono and juban, I spread them out to air for the night. I wrapped the doll in a tea towel, laid him flat on a table and went to bed. In the morning, I found the smell from the dirty, dusty clothing to be cloying and not particularly pleasant. Even the dog agreed, as she ran from the room an hour earlier than usual and didn’t come back. I later found her in the kitchen waiting for breakfast.
The morning air was still cool from the fog outside, so I wasn’t thrilled about opening the windows. However, it was the only way to get rid of the smell, so I wrapped myself in a sweater and aired out the room. My jaw set and brow furrowed, I wondered what to do next. Turning to my research library (several crowded bookshelves that I somehow manage to keep from collapsing), I found a copy of Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo by Alan Pate.
Settling in at the breakfast table with a pot of tea, I read through most of the chapters and brushed up a little on the various types of collectible dolls made in Japan over the past few hundred years. Perplexed at the lack of any dolls with the same body structure as mine, I decided to contact Alan directly and get his opinion. Looking over his website, I found an article on Ningyo that really caught my eye. There was my little fellow’s body type!
Similar to the doll in Alan’s article, my doll’s knees and hips are jointed in such a way as to make it possible for him to kneel properly, something we don’t see in most Western-made dolls. The body is made of compressed sawdust, covered in a layer of gofun, a type of lacquer made from crushed oyster shells. His upper arms are soft chirimen silk with what feels like wire inside. His hair is black-dyed silk fiber.
I emailed Alan and included several photos of my doll. “Sweet figure. Condition is unfortunate,” he replied. Alan then suggested I contact Anne Weaver, a doll restorer in San Diego, CA. Considering I had just been sent a ticket to San Diego to visit a friend the following weekend, I took it as a sign.
Next up, the little fellow and I make a new friend!
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