Hakata Hariko dolls are a local handicraft that dates back to the Edo era. Considered good luck charms, popular characters include tigers and daruma. The process of making these dolls has remained virtually unchanged since the Edo era. The artisan covers an earthen or wooden mold with multiple layers of Japanese washi paper or newspaper, which is kept in place with funori (a type of seaweed traditionally used as an adhesive). After each layer is applied, the dolls are left to dry in the sun, and the final step of this painstaking process is to hand-paint the colorful characters.
Hariko dolls were first brought to Hakata in the middle of the Edo era by a local merchant who learned the technique on a trip to Osaka. In fact, the hariko technique is said to have originated in China in the second century, and from there, it spread to other parts of Asia and Europe. For example, the traditional masks worn for the Carnival of Venice in Italy are made using the hariko technique.
The technique made its way from China to Japan in the middle of the Heian era, and it was used to make toys and various other items because of the lightweight one could achieve by leaving the inside empty. Hariko dogs have well known good luck charms for safe childbirth and children’s health because dogs have many puppies in a single litter. In Japanese, the phrase “hariko tiger” is used to refer to someone who appears formidable but does not actually have any power. (The term entered English as “paper tiger” from Chinese.)
Although we don’t see Hakata Hariko very much in our everyday lives anymore, the handicrafts still play crucial roles in local festivals as harbingers of good luck. The sea bream decorations for the Toka Ebisu Festival held every January are made using the hariko technique. Meanwhile, the comical niwaka masks for the Hakata Niwaka dance that is performed at the Dontaku in May are also hariko. What’s more, you can stop by the Hakatamachiya Furusatokan or the Hakata Traditional Craft Center to purchase hariko dolls of the zodiac animal of the new year.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn253, Jan 2020)