In Japan, Manekineko (beckoning cat) and Daruma figures have been familiar good luck charms and gifts since ancient times. Taking inspiration from these and other folk toys, Sachiyo Kimura creates heartwarming works which combine nostalgia and a modern appearance in a single form. She says, “When something catches my interest, it makes me want to create my own version of it.” While continuing her work as an artist, she has developed increasing numbers of production methods for works such as papier mâché and porcelain dolls, ceramic bells, and Russian nesting dolls.
Many of these folk toys were initially created in various local areas as methods for praying to ward off evil spirits, eliminate disease, and ensure the healthy growth of children. Daruma for example is one of a group of red folk toys such as the Fukushima Akabeko and Hida Sarubobo which were created based on the belief that the infectious disease known as smallpox would avoid the color red. With the advances in medical technology in the modern world, concerns people have held since ancient times are relying on science in increasing numbers of cases. The expected roles and values of these folk toys has changed, and in some cases, these traditions are on the verge of disappearing entirely. In the midst of these trends, Kimura describes her work as follows. “With the notion that having something which soothes your soul is a great thing, I’m creating works which attempt to express the form of these folk toys in a modern way.”
KIMURA & Co.
Kimura’s works avoid a solemn aesthetic, instead striving to be something anyone can casually pick up. For example, she has created Russian nesting dolls with beckoning cat and Daruma motifs drawn on their bodies and small porcelain representations of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac inside. Her works are imbued with these kinds of innovations that surprise and bring a smile to the face of anyone who sees them. In addition, she has also rearranged folk toy motifs into a variety of other works, such as a set of Russian nesting dolls with a bowling set inside, “to make it something to play with rather than simply a decorative object.” The faces which make such an impression with her works feature wide-open eyes, sleepy eyes, and other distinctive and adorable expressions. Her vivid colors and skillful use of color schemes firmly capture a sense of the now, with traditional structures and expressions as their foundation.
“I want to create objects that calm and soothe people when they look at and touch them,” says Kimura. For this reason, she is dedicated to creating by hand. With the exception of some wooden bodies, she carries out nearly every step of the process that goes into each work by hand. When asked about her methods, she laughs and says, “I’m sure experts would be shocked if they saw the way I work.” However, the development of her unique techniques was a natural process after learning the basics, combining self-study with repeated creation.
“Since I make each piece by myself from scratch, I feel my works maintain the warmth of human touch. Even when I make the same item, each iteration has subtle differences in expression. If you compare things like my porcelain dolls, papier mâché, and ceramic bells, you can tell that the form isn’t exactly the same each time. I feel like that uniqueness expresses the warmth of a human touch, though. I hope this sort of lax nature of my works will make people smile and their appearance will give a sensation of warmth.”
Kimura describes the experience of shipping out her products as akin to “sending a child off to foster care.” However, she also says she avoids putting too much of her own feelings into each piece.
“In the end, it’s good if whoever takes them in hand makes up their own mind about what each piece means to them. I don’t really think about any specific emotion I hope people will feel when they see them.”
Since many of her works have good luck charm motifs like beckoning cats and Daruma, she says her business gets especially busy during the end of the year and New Year’s season. In recent years, this busy period lasts from the beginning of fall until around February, and she is constantly making pieces for customers all day long, with pretty much no time for breaks except to sleep. During these busy periods, she makes as many as 1,000 pieces in a month, and “near the end, I get so exhausted I pass out at my desk sometimes.” She laughs and says in spite of how hard the work can be, hearing feedback from customers like “I always look forward to getting my orders from you” and “it warmed my heart” always gets her spirits up again.
Kimura’s parents ran an antique store, and she says because she grew up surrounded by the old things they sold, she naturally came to like antique furnishings and folk toys. She started collecting folk toys and creating dolls with their motifs while she was still in school. In college, she visited ceramics, pottery, and dyeing workshops all over Japan and learned numerous production techniques, and she studied ceramics under a potter for nearly a decade before she began making her own clay dolls. She continues to expand her arsenal of techniques and is currently attempting to reproduce ancient papier mâché and dyeing forms. Alongside her production of works, she also visits different sites not only in Japan but also various areas all over the world, continuing a lifestyle of finding ancient dolls and welcoming them. The display shelves in the entryway of her home are lined with numerous folk toys, and this is just a portion of her collection.
“These items are memories from my trips and also something like my own personal history. There’s no unifying theme and there are lots of different colors, kind of like the way things are in my head.”
According to Kimura, as she encounters new antique items such as folk toys and traditional craft pieces on trips and builds on her interactions with the artists who create them, her own approach to art is updated. “I want to give form to the things I love with my own hands.” This unchanging desire she has held onto for many years serves as the driving force for her creative process, and she continues to complete each work one by one, imbuing the full experience of these new discoveries into them.
Kimura says, “Being surrounded by antiques makes me feel at ease.” She describes the city of Kyoto as “a place where I can feel comfortable by simply passing through the old townscape on a bicycle.” The Fujimi dolls which are said to be the ancestors of all folk toy clay doll varieties in Japan have a history passed down through the generations in Kyoto, and the city is also a treasure trove of traditional materials such as Japanese washi paper, and Kimura says these factors make it the ideal environment for her own creative activities.
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