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.