To All Olympians from October, 1964: Did You Get this Kokeshi Doll?

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I bought mine on eBay. But if you were an athlete or official at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, you should have received this as a gift.

They are called kokeshi, traditional wooden dolls, developed in the northern part of Japan as toys for children. The more artistically expressive they became, the more popular they became for wealthier adults who saw them as ways to show their status, according to this article.

In 1964, a volunteer organization of students called the Japan Junior Sports Club Association, set off on a mission to carve 12,000 kokeshi for distribution to participants of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. One fifth-generation kokeshi artisan, Akihiro Sakurai, was recruited as a student to manufacture these dolls, and he spent a good part of ’64 breathing kokeshi life into wood.

“I’ve been making kokeshi since middle school,” said Sakurai, who is from the Naruko Onsen area of Miyagi Prefecture, a part of Japan where kokeshi craftsmen have plied their trade for centuries. “At the time, there was a kokeshi-making club in school. The club was the centre of my life and the kokeshi makers from our local area came and taught us, and we practiced like mad to make those kokeshi.”

When the athletes received their kokeshi gift, they looked at the base of the doll, and found a rolled up piece of paper inside a cylindrical hole drilled to store the note. This was the message:

October, 1964

To the participants who have come over to this country for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

We, Japan Junior Sports Club Association, give a hearty welcome to you all. Now at this unforgettable time of the Tokyo Olympic Games, we’ve decided to give you a “Kokeshi Doll”, one of our old folk dolls in this country.

This is one of Kokeshi Dolls which were made by the members of Junior Sports Club at Naruko, a branch of J.J.S.A., in Miyagi Prefecture. Naruko is famous for its producing center of Kokeshi Dolls. Well, during this summer vacation, they’ve made these dolls one by one, through the process of cutting woods and pointing them, giving their whole mind to the work.

“Kokeshi Dolls” are wooden ones which have been handed downs since several hundreds years ago in Tohoku district in Japan. They say that these dolls were popular with warriors as ‘mascot’ in expectation of their victory.

This is “Naruko Kokeshi”, which is a well-known toy, enjoyed by the boys and girls all over this country. If we turn its head slowly, it makes a charming sound to hear.

We wish you would accept such a tiny present as a token of a real friendship between you and J.J.S.A.

At this memorable international sports meeting of the Tokyo Olympic Games, we hope you’ll have a good time.

Japan Junior Sports Club Association

(J. J. S. A.)

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Please note that the 64th All-Japan Naruko Kokeshi Matsuri (Festival) will be held from August 31 to September 2, 2018. Go to this link for details.

To see a video of a kokeshi doll being created, click here.