These are very unique Japanese zuishin dolls from the late Edo period (1603-1868). The dolls are commonly called Daijin minister dolls but they are actually figures of the Toneri, the imperial guardsmen and escorts from the Heian period (794-1185). The clothing of the dolls is rich and elaborate just like Kabuki actors on stage. At first, we thought these may be Takeda ningyo (Takeda theater dolls) from the same period (older Takeda dolls - late Edo to early Meiji) but the embroideries on the costumes were finer than the finest Takeda dolls. We often need to look deeper into Japanese history to understand the dolls that we have.
We see a mixture of cultures in some later Edo art. Chinese influence was always there from almost the very beginning; many developed into their own, the hardcore Japanese. The Tokugawa government in the Edo period (1603-1868) shut the country from the outside world (Sakoku) but still encouraged restricted trading. They only permitted the Dutch (after the Portuguese) to trade in a restricted area called Dejima (Small man-made Island in Nagasaki) where they were to remain. Trading with China and Korea was maintained through other channels on and off, particularly to buy raw silk from China.
Life under the Tokugawa Bakufu (the government) was somewhat peaceful without major battles. Farmers, fishermen and merchants, or whoever they were, could live there as long as they stayed within their own class (and act and live like one) and pay taxes. Trading encouraged manufacturing and benefited the economy, particularly traders (merchants). With little battles to fight, the power shifted away from the Samurais.
Some art from this period (late Edo) reflect the people’s strong curiosity and longing for the outside world. We see a Chinese trend in different art forms during this period; some artists signed their names in Chinese names, Karako (Chinese children), Chinese legends, scenary on different medias and influence on theater scripts and costumes.
The dolls we offer have velvet jackets which were first brought by the Portuguese in the 16th century and the Japanese began weaving their own by mid Edo period (a copper wire found in the velvet that the Portuguese brought gave them a hint). It is scarce to find old velvet today because it was scarce and expensive. The embroideries on the jackets and silk pants are one of the finest you can find. For the gold couching, the perfect doll size threads (wrapped in real gold) were used. The velvet has some age damage. The heads of the dolls are composed of three hand carved wood pieces (the hat, head and neck) and are covered with Gofun (mixture of ground oyster shell and glue). The faces are coarse but expressive just like old Takeda dolls. They are the kind of dolls that speak to you.
One foot is partially broken off (toe) and there are surface damages on each thumb. The approx. height is 14 inches tall (on one inch stand) x 9 3/4 inches wide(each), Isho Ningyo (the Costume Dolls) from late Edo period (1603-1868).