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Keshi Ningyo
Keshi means "poppy" and ningyo is doll. These little dioramas have tiny plaster or clay figures with wire for legs, inserted into a silk covered wooden board and placed inside an unfinished wooden box. The figures all have clearly defined painted faces, hair as well as arms. They are hand painted. Some carry items such as swords and umbrellas. Other items can include ox cart, palanquin, horses. The lid serves to protect the scene when closed or doubles as a stand when displayed.

One family in Kyoto had been making Kiyomizu products (porcelain) since Meiji period. The 3rd generation started specializing in these Meiji period style Kyoto dolls. The current 5th generation maker's name is Noriyuki Katsura (if the web translation is correct). Little other information can be found.

The most popular of these is based on the Daimyo Gyoretsu. During the Edo period, a law, called "Sankin Kotai" was created to help control the Daimyo (Feudal Lords). The law required every Daimyo to spend every other year in Edo (Tokyo). The travelling procession of the Daimyo household often included over 200 samurai (soldiers) and was called Daimyo Gyoretsu. With hundreds of Daimyo coming or going every year, these processions were common occurrences.

Others subjects include the three biggest festivals in Kyoto, Aoi, Jidai and Gion and 47 Ronin or Chushingura, the ever popular story about loyalty. There are a few others but are extremely difficult to find.

These became a passion/obsession the first time I saw one. I have been collecting what I could in Japan for some years now. These certainly are not common, but I have been able to amass a fair number which will eventually be listed.

Because of multiples, I have been able to study them and can generally identify the oldest and the later ones. The older ones are a little more detailed as most of the folkcrafts were back then. The later were mounted assisted with glue. They may vary in colors and in the number of figures. There are two different sizes and there are several versions of some. For example, there are two different Aoi scenes.

Please note, they will be identified as best as possible but these will be guesses and assumptions on my part as more specific facts cannot be found.

Condition: Because of the many small pieces, there can often be missing or broken figures or items (like hats), which will be so noted. The older sets are more fragile as they have dried out with time and the figures can crack and break readily if hit or dropped. The wires are also in a fragile state with corrosion (rust). It is not recommended to try to straighten the wires, as they may break off easily. The older ones also tend to have a lot of age staining or soiling on the figures, the silk and the boxes.

Pricing: Generally pricey because of their size, detail and rarity. I know of two selling on the retail level with pricing at $150 and $175. In June (2012) one sold elsewhere (U.S.) for $128.00 with one figure missing. I have paid much and not so much for the same thing and will use averages since there isn't any rhyme or reason to the pricing in Japan.

Keshi Ningyo are detailed, interesting and simply amazing minature works of art.


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