Miyoshi dolls, also known as Miyoshi-deko (clay figure), have a peculiar gloss
all over them, especially on their faces. So some call them hikari-ningyo, or
shiny dolls. They are simple but have a hint of beauty, too.
In the past the deko-ichi or clay figure fair, a harbinger of spring, was held in
Miyoshi. From mid-March, a large number of clay figures were displayed for
sale at shops on Miyoshi Hondori Avenue. They say it drew many people from
the suburbs, too. Unfortunately the fair is no longer held.
Legend tells us that every time a child was born to one of his retainers,
Nagaharu Asano, the first feudal lord of Miyoshi-han, gave a clay doll as a
present to show his blessings. Since then, there still remains the custom of
presenting a clay figure of Tenjin to a boy on his first Boys' Festival, and one
of Machimusume to a girl on her first Girls' Festival.
The dolls are 10-30 centimeters tall and come in various kinds. A particularly
interesting one among them is Tenjin-deko. The Miyoshi district has
a longstanding custom of worshipping Tenjin, or the deified spirit of Michizane
Sugawara, who is supposed to be a patron of learning. Matsuoi Tenjin is a doll of
Tenjin with a green pine tree behind his back. This design is excellent and
Formerly, clay dolls were also made in the Mihara, Joge and Shobara areas
in this prefecture. Now only Miyoshi dolls keep their place in our lives.
Miyoshi dolls with a history of 300 years (Photograph taken circa 1994)
The origin of Miyoshi dolls is said to date back to 1630, when Chuemon Osaki came to Miyoshi, found some good clay in Yamaga (now Yamaga-cho, Miyoshi City) and settled there to build a kiln. Following that, in 1641, Nagaharu Asano, the founder of the Miyoshi-han (feudal clan), had clay dolls baked by Kisaburo Mori, a doll maker in Asakusa, Edo (now Tokyo). Those were said to be the first Miyoshi dolls.
Currently only one pottery shop in Tokaichi-cho, Miyoshi City makes Miyoshi dolls. The skill is handed down from father to son in the Marumoto family.