The Relation between Kyo-nigyo and Bisque Doll

November 25, 2019

by Rio Yamada and Hazuki Yamagata

There are a wide varriety of dolls in the world. Japan has a varety of dolls, sometimes being called a “doll’s warehouse.” Dolls have been made in Western Europe as a tool to use for various purposes. In this article, we will introduce Kyo-ningyo (“Kyo” means “Kyoto“, “ningyo” means “a doll”) made in Kyoto, and “bisque doll” that has been popular around Europe.

What is Kyo-ningyo?

Kyo-ningyo is the high-class Japanese-style dolls that have been developed around Kyoto from a long time ago. Kyo-ningyo is made through subdivided production processes by craftsmen. This highly specialized production system brings the depth and quality unique to Kyo-ningyo. Kyo-ningyo was used as a distraction for forces of epidemic and disaster that are called “katashiro” (=形代), and “hitogata” (=人形).

The orign of Kyo-ningyo back to “dogu” (=土偶) which is human clay figure in the Jomon Period (c. 14,000 B.C – 300 B.C), and “haniwa” (=埴輪) which is a clay figure shaped like men, women, animals especially horses in the Kofun Period (c. 250 – 538). There were all used as a subject for faith and magic. Even now, the custom has been passed down in some areas that a “Nagashibina” that transfers human’s sins and misfortune to hitogata is placed in the river to keep off evil. This hitogata guradually turned into a girl’s plaything. During the Heian Period (794 – 1192), it was popular as a toy among himegimi (=姫君 means “princess”). It was mainly developed in Kyoto even in the Edo Period (1603 – 1867). Kyoto’s long history and sophisticated traditional handcrafts have supported the high quarity of Kyo-ningyo.

Haniwa shaped like human
Haniwa shaped like horse

There are many kinds of Kyo-ningyo. Next is introduction of some kinds of Kyo-ningyo.

  • Hina-ningyo (=雛人形): A costume doll which is displayed during Hinamatsuri (=雛祭り “Doll’s Festival” in English) on March 3rd. Hinamatsuri is a traditional Japanese event to pray for young girls to grow up healthily, and their happiness.
  • Gogatsu-ningyo (=五月人形): Essential doll for Kodomo-no-hi (=こどもの日 “Children’s Day” in English) on May 5th. On this day, people cerebrate children’s healthy growth and their happines. Originally called Tango-no-sekku (=端午の節句), or “Boy’s Festival.” During this event, people cerebrated boy’s healthy, and thier happiness.
  • Gosho-ningyo (=御所人形): Displayed for various celebrations. Mainly these are shaped three heads tall, naked child dolls. This doll has a chubby body, and sleek skin.
  • Ichimatsu-ningyo (=市松人形): A costume doll shaped like a child. Also called “yamato-ningyo” (=やまと人形). It has different figures for a boy and a girl. The boy doll is dressed in haori (=羽織) and hakama (=袴) which is Japanese  male formal attire. The girl doll is generally dressed in furisode (=振袖) which is a long-sleeved kimono with bobbed hair.
  • Fuzoku-ningyo (=風俗人形): A costume doll which is also popular as well as hina-ningyo. Mainly it is put in the case, and displayed as an ornamental.

What is Bisque Doll?

Bisque Doll

Bisque Doll” was in fashion among lady and young lady who were the bourgeoisie in the 19th century. Over 100 yaers later, now it is an “antique doll.” It is also called “china doll” because it is made of chinaware. Between the 14th century and the 18th century, many lady dolls which were dress-up dolls were made. The now-loved bisque doll was born inspired by “Ichimatsu-ningyo” that was exhibited at Paris Exposition in 1855.

The word “bisque” of bisque doll comes from French word “biscuit” the same word as biscuit, which is a snack. As the name suggests (“bis” means twice, “cuit” means bake), it is made of unglazed ceramic that is baked twice.  Its skin is not only smooth and clear, but also attractive in that its rosy texture looks like human skin. The practical bisque dolls that can move their body freely, were developed to use as toys for children.

As mentioned before, a bisque doll can move its body. Next is introsuction of some body parts of bisque doll.


  • shoulder head: It is combined head and chest like a bust. It is common in initial bisque dolls.
  • turn head: It is a kind of a “shoulder head“, but its neck is fixed in state facing the right.
  • open mouth: Some dolls have a mouth that is open. Some have teeth, and some have a red paper to make the inside of doll’s head invisible.
  • closed mouth: Some dolls have a mouth that is closed. Usally this is more expensive than open mouthed doll.
  • swivel neck: These dolls have a neck that can move. The tip of neck is thin. It is attached to “composition body.”
  • flange neck: It is an open neck that fasten to a “cross body.” Its tip of neck is splayed like a vase. This style is common in a baby doll.


  • set eye: These eyes are made of plaster in a fixed position.
  • sleep eye: A doll with a weight on both eyelids so that they can move.


  • kid body: A body that is made of goat skin, attached to a china “shoulder head.”
  • composition body: It is very strong because it is made of many flat papers that are pressed together.

Bisque dolls are made by these parts of the body put together.


These dolls have been loved not only thier home countries, but also internationally. As time passed, thier utility and purpose has been changing, but dolls have always been by our side, and we have lived together. As children get older, they have less time to spend with dolls, and distance themselves from dolls. We hope that people who read this article will have a little interest in dolls.


by Mai Takezawa, Sayaka Terasaki, and Kanako Wakamatsu


In Japan, there are some traditional Japanese dolls called Nihon-Ningyo. It is a generic name of dolls which are wearing Japanese-style clothing and dressing Japanese hair made in Japan. One of Nihon-Ningyo is Kyo-Ningyo, which is made in Kyoto. This doll is so interesting. Most Japanese, especially Kyoto people, take good care of it and feel proud to have it.  Today we will introduce one of the traditional Japanese dolls, Kyo-Ningyo. After introducing the doll, we would like to tell some of its history, how it is made that the different kinds of Kyo-Ningyo that are produced.


What is Kyo-Ningyo?

What is Kyo-Ningyo? It’s different from Hina-Ningyo. However, they are bothe the same kind of Japanese doll. Compared with Hina-Ningyo, which is shown only in March, most Japanese people, especially Kyoto people, who have a child display Kyo-Ningyo in their house all through the year. It is a kind of Japanese doll called Nihon-Ningyo and it’s called treasure of doll in Kyoto. It has a white face, long and narrow eyes and bobbed hair, and is wearing a kimono which is made from Nishijin-ori, fabric that was developed in Kyoto. It demands detailed work without compromise to make. Each part, like head, hair, trunk, arms and legs, is made separately and then finally synthesized from many parts into a whole doll. That’s why it takes much skill to make.  The dolls are hand made by skilled craftspeople and they cost a fair bit. Japanese people use these dolls to pray for protection against ill-fortune, especially around their child. The doll can represent boys and girls to undertake their position as a scapegoat and is believed to safeguard their child’s health.

By way of a general description, Kyo-Ningyo is about 50~100 centimeters high. In fact, the height of these dolls won’t be expressed in centimeters, but express in  “ban” or “gou” (Japanese words meaning number), which is a unit that indicates each doll’s size. It is expressed like “Kyo-12” or “Kyo-11 ban”. The size of doll is distributed from number from Kyo-12 ban to Kyo-7 ban. We can find which size is bigger clearly by idea which we explain from now. For example, Kyo-11 ban is same size as elevent part of Japanese height and Kyo-10 ban is same size as tenth part of Japanese height. So, you can find easily Kyo-10ban is bigger.

History of Kyo-Ningyo

The origin of Kyo-Ningyo goes back to the Nara Era (710 – 784) or perhaps an even older time. In ancient times, most traditional dolls, such as Haniwa and Dogu were made as human’s talisman. It is considered those dolls would shoulder human’s injury and ill-fortunre. Sometimes these dolls are found intermitted under the ground instead of humans. It is gradually changed from talisman to doll, and at this point the history of Kyo-Ningyo has begun. In the Heian Era (794 – 1185), playing with dolls was a trend among the aristocratic children. That doll was the origin of Hina-Ningyo. In the Edo era (1603 – 1868), the center of government was moved to Edo, but the center of doll making was still in Kyoto. At that time, many famous puppeteers were turned out from Kyoto. It is said that the form of Kyo-Ningyo was born in the Edo era. Kyo-Ningyo was famous for a tribute gift.

How to make Kyo-Ningyo

The operation process of Kyo-Ningyo was divided into small section, such as head, hair, arms and legs and so on. There is a specialist for making each section.

1. The process starts from the head section. The craftsman paints exclusive glue on doll’s head, then incises eyes, puts rouge on and draws eyebrows.

2. Another craftsman immerses the doll’s hair along a guide line. After that, he puts up doll’s hair and puts on the hair slide.

3. Finishing the head section, the craftsman moves on to body section. By using a knife, he whittles a piece of wood into a doll.

4. The other craftsman makes essential clothing and accessories for the dolls. For example, fan, bow, wardrobe and so on.

5. The costume for Kyo-Ningyo is also made by craftsman. Nishijin-Ori is often used for costume cloth.

The most famous dollmakers impart their skills only to their apprentices.  In this way, the doll-making skills are kept secret from outsiders. This is why Kyo-Ningyo was designated as a traditional handwork by the Ministry of Economy and Industry.

Kinds of Kyo-Ningyo

There are a lot of kinds of Kyo-Ningyo. We will introduce 3 kinds of them, Fushimi Ningyo, Gosho Ningyo, and Sekku Ningyo.

・Fushimi Ningyo

First, Fushimi Ningyo is a clay doll and the oldest folk toy. It was sold in front of the gate of Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine that is one of the very famous tourist attractions in Kyoto from Aduchi-Momoyma Era (1503~1603). In Hatsu-uma (that refers to the first day of the horse in February in Japan), people visit and pray at the shrine, after that, buy the doll. They enshrine it on the Kamidana that is a household Shinto altar with a charm against fires. In the end of Edo period, it was the most popular doll among Japanese people. There are about 90 kinds of clay doll now, and all of them are modeled after Fushimi Ningyo.

・Gosho Ningyo

Second is Gosho Ningyo. In the old times, the Imperial court gave the doll to the Daimyo (a feudal lord) in return for their dedicating. It was made for displaying in the middle of the Edo period, and displayed for celebrations such as marriage or childbirth. Gosho Ningyo is a plump children doll and has pure white skin. These are the greatest features of Gosho Ningyo.


・Sekku Ningyo

Finally, Sekku Ningyo, which is the most familiar to Japanese people. “Sekku” means a seasonal festival in Japanese, for example, in Japan there are the doll festival in March, and children’s day in May. At this season, Japanese people display Sekku Ningyo. This contains a wish for healthy growth to their children.




Kyo-Ningyo has been made since earlier than the Nara Era (A.D. 710) and has a lot of history.  After the capital city of Japan was moved from Kyoto to Edo that is called Tokyo now, Kyoto remained famous for making dolls and is still the center of doll-making now. and also Kyo-Ningyo was designated to as a traditional handwork by the Ministry of Economy and Industry. Japanese people display Kyo-Ningyo in their houses or give it to someone to pray their children’s healthy growth. We recommend you to look at or buy Kyo-Ningyo for a souvenir. The total cost of the doll is different depending on the size, the cheapest one is about 50,000 yen and an expensive one is about 250,000 yen or more expensive. You will definitely find Kyo-Ningyo that you can like.