Hakata dolls, one of Fukuoka’s traditional handicrafts, are unglazed porcelain figurines characterized by their smooth white skin. The Bijin Mono (“Beautiful Lady”) series of dolls is especially well known. Hakata dolls date back to around 1600 when Nagamasa Kuroda assumed the lordship Chikuzen (now Fukuoka) and numerous artisans moved to Fukuoka from all over Japan coinciding with the construction of Fukuoka Castle. The dolls that these artisans made in their downtime were the original Hakata dolls.
In the late Edo era, when trade with other regions was brisk, Hakata dolls gained a reputation as the preeminent souvenir from Hakata. What’s more, Hakata dolls were put on display at the Paris Expo in the Meiji era, which boosted their popularity abroad. In addition to the Bijin Mono series, other motifs include Noh and kabuki actors, samurai, children, and the Seven Gods of Good Fortune. Many locals are also fond of the zodiac animal dolls that are released every year.
The lifestyles of the Japanese people have changed dramatically since olden times, so fewer households own Hakata dolls nowadays. This is why artisans have been trying new things to keep the tradition alive, like using doll-making techniques to create colorful ohajiki discs with motifs that change every year. These ohajiki used to only be sold at the Hojoya festival at Hakozaki Shrine, but due to their wild popularity, they are now available year-round.
Another initiative that has gained attention is the Hakata doll capsule toys made primarily by young artisans. The hand-crafted miniatures are only available in limited quantities, so they sell out quickly. Yet another endeavor is the Hakata Ofuku project, a collaboration with the Faculty of Art and Design at Kyushu Sangyo University under which young art students create original Hakata dolls with a fresh twist. You can visit the Hakata Traditional Craft Center to see the Hakata dolls display, some of which are for sale.