This is a very fine signed late Edo Japanese Gosho doll in the position of a small boy seated with his arm upraised and holding what appears to be a bow in his left hand. The doll is rich in detail, it was well modeled in an artfully executed pose. The one-piece body is finished in white gofun (crushed oyster shell), and the expressive facial features are delicately hand painted. The doll is scantily clad with an embroidered tan/gold chirimen silk bib or stomach cloth (“haragake”) which is tied around his waist with red silk crepe cords. On his right side there is a rectangular piece that looks as if it could be simulate armor of a samurai archer.
The Gosho is in generally good condition for its age – there is a dent in the top of his head where there once would have been a shock of hair or possibly a hat. The toes on his left leg bent under his body have been chipped off. And there is a hairline crack down the side of his right leg. We date the doll to the late Edo period, circa 1840s-1860s. He measures 4 ¾” high by 5” wide by 4 ½” deep. His bow measures 8” long and is almost ¼” thick at its thickest. It has the signature of the doll maker on the bottom of the doll - it has been translated as Mitsuhito. Very few of the Gosho dolls carried the makers signature.
Japanese traditional dolls are known by the name ningyō in Japan, which literally means human shape. Gosho dolls show fat, cute babies in a simplified form. The basic gosho is an almost-naked sitting boy, carved all in one piece, with very white skin, though gosho with elaborate clothing, hairstyle, and accessories, female as well as male, became popular as well. They developed as gifts associated with the Imperial court, and "gosho" could be translated "palace" or "court."
Probably the first professional dollmakers were temple sculptors, who used their skill to make painted wooden images of children (Saga dolls). The possibilities of this art form, using carved wood or wood composition, a shining white "skin" lacquer called gofun made from ground oyster-shell and glue, and textiles, were vast.