TOKYO >> Traditional hand-crafted hariko dolls are made by pasting pieces of paper in layers to make shapes. With their rounded forms and appealing simplicity, they are often meant to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. Learning the origins of each piece — and often what they represent — adds another element of fun.
Hariko is a type of papier-mache. A mold is made from clay or wood, and then pieces of paper are glued to it in layers. Paint is applied after it dries.
Hariko is said to have been imported to Japan during the Heian period (late eighth century to late 12th century). The technique is still used for making various traditional works, including those particular to certain areas. Examples include the akabeko red cow from Fukushima Prefecture, and the iwai-dai — a pair of red sea bream facing each other — from Shizuoka Prefecture. Inu hariko (hariko dog) and hariko no tora (tiger) are made nationwide.
Artist Beverly Maeda creates hariko works in her own distinct style. To make a hariko piece, Maeda first pastes layers of traditional washi paper onto a mold. Maeda said, “It’s interesting that washi can be formed into various three-dimensional pieces.” After removing the mold, she applies gofun white pigment on the paper as an undercoat, and then paints with colors. Even for small dolls, the work requires several days due to the time it takes for drying.
Her works include a fukusuke doll — a small man with a big head traditionally thought to bring good luck. The fukusuke is only about about 3 inches tall but projects a warm air of contentedness.
Another doll meant to serve as a good luck charm is the mimizuku (eared owl). These were popular during the Edo period (1603-1867) for warding off smallpox.
Inubako are pairs of containers, shaped like two dogs. They represent hope for a smooth pregnancy and a baby’s health and well-being.
Inubako made using the hariko technique were once included in trousseaus for brides as containers for makeup sets. They were also an accompaniment to the sets of dolls for celebrating Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival).
Japan’s colorful array of hariko dolls also includes Oinari-sama (a fox-shaped deity), daruma (a symbol of good luck and perseverance), maneki-neko (lucky cat), Ebisu (the deity of fishermen and good luck), Daikokuten (the deity of prosperity), and shishi (a guardian lion).
Handmade hariko dolls appear similar at first glance but offer up slight differences in shape and expression upon closer inspection, giving each piece a distinctive, tasteful vibe.
Because making hariko can be difficult for beginners, Maeda offers workshops and classes at department stores and other places. She hopes hariko dolls, which are made using traditional techniques, will become more accepted in today’s society alongside nostalgic memories of the past associated with them.
“If you use hariko [pieces] as ornaments or present them as gifts, they will certainly bring you good luck,” Maeda said.