The dolls are standing at attention facing forward in rows ten deep. Their feminine faces are stylised with almost Mona Lisa expressions. Their bodies are single stick figures, with brightly coloured lines and abstract decorative arabesques in soft green and red. The forms are quite abstract. These are the dolls of Tsuchiyu Kokeshi.
The soft cherry, elm and walnut wood, and the handmade lathe curves and hand-painted facial expressions, give the dolls an individuality that defies the strict rules of their traditional craftsmanship.
The workshop of Tsuchiyu Kokeshi sits deep in the mountains of Fukushima, near a hot spring. Each hot spring town in the Tohoku region has its own doll style, a Galapagos of subtle stylistic evolution that stretches across several of Japan's prefectures. Each style has become unique, interbreeding impossible.
These Tsuchiyu hot spring dolls are different in subtle ways from neighbouring styles. In the shape of the mouth, the pout of the lower lip, and the way the head is attached.
The making of these dolls follows a prescribed tradition, but close examination reveals subtle differences in facial expression, form and mood. Each one is a subtle masterpiece.