Kokeshi Doll Tattoo

Kokeshi Doll Tattoos: Origins, Meanings & More

A kawaii friend to carry all your best wishes.

Kokeshi Doll Tattoo

There are so many things a tattoo can be inspired by, especially a Japanese one.

One relatively new phenomenon seems to be cartoon-ish, cute and “girly” tattoos in cartoony pastel colors.

These tattoos will often celebrate a person’s favorite nostalgic items or characters.

Kokeshi Doll

It’s an interesting clash when cuteness and tattoo culture collide.

Tattoos have previously been thought of as dark and bad-ass, but now you might see an adult with a full My Little Pony sleeve.

Which brings us to a very cute, highly customizable design – the Kokeshi Doll tattoo.

This is becoming a popular option thanks to its interesting history and instantly recognizable aesthetic.

The Kokeshi doll is a relatively blank slate with a few key identifiers, so tattoo artists can run wild when collaborating on this tattoo with a client.

Why are Kokeshi Doll Tattoos Popular?

Whether directly or not, the worldwide attraction to cuteness takes most of its cues from Japan’s “Kawaii Culture.”

Kawaii is the Japanese word for “cute.” Similarly to the English word, it suggests a kind of innocence and sweetness.

Starting in the 1960’s, students began protesting prescribed knowledge in higher learning institutions.

This manifested itself in an adult interest in manga (or comic books) as well as more childlike activities.

As time went on, students even developed their own “Kawaii Handwriting,” which became popular in the 80s.

The writing involved thin pencil lines, rounded characters, and little pictures like hearts and stars.

Though the handwriting was banned from schools, it lived on in comic books and magazines.

Kokeshi Doll

Kawaii Culture continues worldwide today as adults embrace their right to love things that are deemed childish and unrefined.

This is evidenced in the wild success of the Pokemon Go app with people of all ages- or even the sheer number of popular baby animal videos on Youtube.

It’s no surprise then that a dedication to cuteness would spill over into the tattoo world.

The neo traditional style of tattooing lends itself so well to nostalgic, cartoon-ish characters.

Plenty of tattoos today feature bright colors or pastels with bold outlines and exaggerated details; something very reminiscent of the drawings in anime and manga!

Kokeshi Dolls fit perfectly into this aesthetic landscape.

What are Kokeshi Dolls?

Kokeshi dolls vary in style and have become more modernized over the years, but you’ve probably seen some version of the design at one point.

A Kokeshi Doll is made of wood.

There is no particular type of wood that must be used to create one, it’s really up to the artisan and their desired aesthetic/weight.

Generally these dolls would be made up of long cylinders for a body, with a large wooden ball for the head.

The head being disproportionately large to a fairly shapeless body is something that is essential to the Kokeshi Doll design, even in modern interpretations of the toy.

Kokeshi Doll History

Kokeshi Dolls have been around for hundreds of years, but as far as we know they made their debut in the 15th century in the Tohoku Region in Northern Japan.

Artisan woodworkers made and sold these wooden dolls to those who visited the hot springs.

Many of the visitors to the hot springs were farmers, who would bring the doll back to their children.

Because of it’s cylindrical shape a Kokeshi doll may also be incorporated as a massage tool, or as a plaything for people with fidgety hands.

Throughout the years the design has evolved and become much cuter/more fashionable.

Though the bulbous head remains, a bob haircut (also carved out of wood) usually sits on top of the doll’s head to add dimension and character.

The body on modern Kokeshi Dolls is less of a cylinder and more of a tapered block that slightly resembles a full length kimono.

These modern designs are usually the inspiration for a Kokeshi Doll tattoo- which may come in any number of colors and feature different designs or accessories.

Some Kokeshi dolls contain a slot that can hold a small scroll of paper. This paper is meant to have a wish written on it, which makes it a lovely gift.

When selecting a Kokeshi doll for this purpose, the color and design will usually correspond with the wish you are sending to its receiver.

The same principle would apply when designing your Kokeshi Doll tattoo!

Kokeshi Doll Tattoo Meaning

Kokeshi Doll tattoos may just be a tribute to all things Kawaii in some cases, but there are many interesting interpretations for this little poppet.

Because most of the original Kokeshi Doll customers were farmers, it is thought to be a great fertility charm for those who own land.

Relating to the theme of fertility, Kokeshi Dolls have become a bit of a naughty joke to some.

With their large heads and cylindrical bodies, they resemble one of the more popular sex toys on the market!

Some toys are designed to look like Kokeshi Dolls as a result.

The interpretation for the word “Kokeshi” is up for debate.

The lighter interpretation is that “ko” means “small” or “child,” while “keshi” translates to “doll.” Pretty natural assumption, right?

There is a less pleasant interpretation of the word. “Keshi” has been speculated as having its roots in the word “Kesu” which means to vanish or erase.

Unfortunately in the Edo period in Japan, infanticide was a common practice in an effort toward population control.

This usually affected people with little money who could not afford to support another child.

In the case of a child dying, a Kokeshi Doll was often placed in the household shrine as a reminder of their short life.

In that respect, the Kawaii Culture has a macabre twist.

Perhaps the act of preserving childhood innocence can stand for a deeper issue and remind us of a dark piece of history.

Kokeshi Doll Tattoo Ideas

There are so many reasons a person may get a Kokeshi Tattoo – what’s yours?

If you’re feeling inspired by this little Kawaii figure, take a look at our gallery for some of the best Kokeshi Doll Tattoos available.

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