Five highlights at the 'Ningyo' doll exhibition at Muzium Negara


Prepare to dive into the world of 'Ningyo' at Muzium Negara in KL, where dolls are more than just playthings - they're a reflection of Japan's rich cultural tapestry and craftsmanship. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong

Muzium Negara (National Museum) in Kuala Lumpur is showing a new touring exhibition from Tokyo, which highlights the history and cultural significance of Japanese dolls, known as "ningyo".

Entitled Ningyo: Art And Beauty Of Japanese Dolls, the exhibition, which runs through July 8, showcases a total of 67 exhibits, providing visitors with an opportunity to explore a diverse collection of dolls.

"From Katashiro and Amagatsu dolls, considered the archetypes of dolls in Japan, to local dolls that reflect the climate and anecdotes from across the country, to dress-up dolls that are beloved in Japan today as doll toys, and scale figures that are highly regarded around the world, the exhibition presents a comprehensive introduction to Japanese doll culture," reads the exhibition notes.

A museum visitor takes a closer look at a section of dolls at the 'Ningyo' exhibition in Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong A museum visitor takes a closer look at a section of dolls at the 'Ningyo' exhibition in Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong

Mita Kakuyuki of the Tokyo National Museum is the curator of this Ningyo exhibition, laying out the Japanese doll exhibits across four themes: the use of Ningyo in child growth rituals, its elevation to fine art, its manifestation in folk traditions, and its role in proliferating Ningyo culture.

Each "ningyo" doll tells a unique story, reflecting its role in Japanese society.

Also, don't be spooked by some of their lifelike appearances – they offer insights into Japanese folk culture and the evolution of doll craftsmanship through the centuries.

The Japan Foundation KL, with support from the Department of Museums Malaysia, the Ministry of National Unity, and the Embassy of Japan, has brought this exhibition to Kuala Lumpur.

Where do you start at the Ningyo exhibition? Here are five exhibition highlights:

A view of the 'Takechi Jujiro' doll which is used in traditional Japanese puppet theatre called 'Jurori'. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong A view of the 'Takechi Jujiro' doll which is used in traditional Japanese puppet theatre called 'Jurori'. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong

JORURI NINGYO: TAKECHI JUJIRO

At the exhibition, "Takechi Jujiro" stands out as one of the largest dolls, renowned for its role in the traditional puppet theatre known as "Joruri". Crafted at half-life-size, this remarkable doll incorporates intricate mechanisms enabling three operators to manipulate its limbs and control the opening and closing of its eyes. Such puppet theatre, once ubiquitous across Japan, showcases figures like Takechi, a military commander featured in the tale "Ehon Taiko-ki", hence adorned in requisite armour and mask. If you're into local puppetry, like Potehi, this is definitely an exhibit to check out.

(From left) Hagoita Oshichi, Oniwakamaru, Oiran & Kamuro, and Hagoita Danshichi are examples of popular Japanese folktale characters that have been made into dolls. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong (From left) Hagoita Oshichi, Oniwakamaru, Oiran & Kamuro, and Hagoita Danshichi are examples of popular Japanese folktale characters that have been made into dolls. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong

OSHIE HAGOITA DOLLS

"Oshie" involves cutting thick paper along a design, wrapping each part in fabric, and embellishing it with assorted decorations. Paired with a "Hagoita" paddle, similar to a badminton racket, Oshie creations form three-dimensional artworks. These pieces often feature diverse imagery, including women in kimonos, kabuki actors, and characters from folktales.

Takasaki Daruma (left) is a 200-year-old doll portraying the Zen Buddhism founder, 'Dodhidharma'. Miharu Daruma (right) is a charm against demons, known for its striking eyes that bring good luck. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong Takasaki Daruma (left) is a 200-year-old doll portraying the Zen Buddhism founder, 'Dodhidharma'. Miharu Daruma (right) is a charm against demons, known for its striking eyes that bring good luck. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong

TAKASAKI DARUMA

The "Daruma" doll, also known as "Daruma Daishi", holds religious significance and is believed to bring happiness and fulfill wishes for its owner. Traditionally, one eye is left unpainted, symbolising a wish, while the second eye is added upon wish fulfillment. Its red colour symbolises protection against misfortune, and its facial features, styled after a crane and tortoise, symbolise longevity.

The smallest dolls in the exhibit, 'Saga Ningyo: Karako' (Chinese-style children), showcase Japan's highly-detailed craftsmanship. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong The smallest dolls in the exhibit, 'Saga Ningyo: Karako' (Chinese-style children), showcase Japan's highly-detailed craftsmanship. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong

SAGA NINGYO: KARAKO

You might need a magnifying glass for this exhibit. Miniature dolls are immensely popular in Japan, particularly among children. These dolls not only demonstrate detailed craftsmanship but also draw inspiration from ancient Chinese paintings, which Japan has long admired for their artistic excellence. Among them, one doll holds a "Shishigashira", resembling a lion's head, used in the "Shishimai" dance ritual believed to ward off evil.

Kurisu Makise (left) from 'Steins; Gate' and Asuna Yuuki (right) from 'Sword Art Online' illustrate Japan's contemporary anime-inspired doll-making. Photo: The Japan Foundation KLKurisu Makise (left) from 'Steins; Gate' and Asuna Yuuki (right) from 'Sword Art Online' illustrate Japan's contemporary anime-inspired doll-making. Photo: The Japan Foundation KL

COLLECTOR FIGURINES

Here's the section for anime fans. In addition to traditional dolls, the exhibition features "Collector Figurines" depicting beloved characters from anime series and games. Crafting three-dimensional figures based on two-dimensional characters poses a challenge in meeting fan expectations. However, Japan boasts numerous figurine manufacturers with cutting-edge modelling and fabrication techniques. These manufacturers are often the first to release characters from new Japanese anime and games, driven by global demand for figurines.

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