Kubi ningyo – clay dolls on a wood stick

Kubi-ningyo doll pair
Kubi-ningyo doll pair

What a fierce  (humorous?) looking pair of dolls!   Knowing absolutely nothing about them, I bought them some months ago at the Shitennoji temple market in Osaka….

Kubi-ningyo doll pair
Kubi-ningyo doll pair

Known as ‘kubi-ningyo’ or neck dolls, they are very  simply made small clay heads measuring about 3 x 6.5 centimeters and mounted on a thin bamboo stick.  Dolls like these were popular in the Edo period and made in many parts of Japan.  Their origins likely lie in bunraku puppet theater.  Some dolls, Anesama kubi ningyo, were used as playthings. Children could  dress them up by wrapping bits of cloth or paper around the stick or  inserting the stick end into a homemade body.  Other dolls with animal heads were intended as talismans.


Saint-Gilles (1989)  describes three different styles of kubi-ningyo.  Comic kubi-ningyo are made in Sado but originated in Edo (now Tokyo).  The first maker of these doll heads was a man named Noromatsu.  A comic play style grew up around them and eventually found its way to isolated Sado island. The enthusiasm of the islanders for these small puppet faces led to the production of similar ones that continue to be made today.

A second type, Shizuoka kubi-ningyo,  are colorful talismans based on the classical Chinese zodiac of twelve animals. According to the zodiac sign of the child, a corresponding animal head doll is presented to the tutelary shrine as a protection against intestinal worms and night-time crying and coughing.  The dolls are stuck into a plug of straw and may be seen as humorous guardians for remote shrines throughout the countryside of Shizuoka-ken.

A third style is from Tokushima ken in Shikoku. The dolls are made for an unusual local form of bunraku and sit atop elaborate costumes. In addition to finely detailed painting on their clay heads, they have ‘hair’ made of plant fiber.


So what type do I have?  I’m still not sure.  Are they comic?  They look quite fierce to me…they do have ‘hair’ so they could be from Shikoku…mmm,  more research needed…can anybody help?


Greve, G. (2011). Omamori – Japanese Amulets: Kubi ningyoo – head dolls – INFO. [online] Omamorifromjapan.blogspot.jp. Available at: http://omamorifromjapan.blogspot.jp/2011/08/kubi-ningyoo-head-dolls-info.html [Accessed 6 Feb. 2015].

Saint-Gilles, A. (1989). Mingei. Rutland, Vt.: C.E. Tuttle.

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'Styled in Japan': an online shop that specializes in fashionable anti-UV parasols; an Etsy shop that features a unique collection of retro, vintage and antique Japanese treasures sourced from temple and flea markets in the Kansai area.

2 thoughts on “Kubi ningyo – clay dolls on a wood stick”

  1. Very interesting, Denise. I like the fact that these are dolls, well, maybe not the angry ones you have. As a child my favourite toy was a puppet, so these appeal to me. Great find!

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