Traditional kokeshi dolls originated in northern Japan during the middle of the Edo period around 300 years ago. It is said that artisans who were skilled in woodworking began crafting these hand-carved and painted wooden dolls to sell to people who were visiting the many hot springs in the region. These traditional kokeshi dolls were usually made of a cylindrical, slender piece of wood with a round head. The body of the doll was usually painted with a floral design and the head with thin lines to resemble a face. Kokeshi doll artisans followed this orthodox design for several centuries. In the mid-1940's, a new type of kokeshi crafting began to emerge that allowed the craftsperson more freedom in creating different shapes and designs, as well as using different paint colors. One of the leading craftsmen of this kokeshi revival was Usaburo Okamoto. Usaburo Okamoto, the founder of Usaburo Kokeshi in Gunma Prefecture, began making kokeshi dolls in 1950. Over time, Usaburo Okamoto not only expressed himself through his craft by using many different shapes, styles and colors, but he also pioneered new production methods to help modernize the art of kokeshi crafting. He remains one of the most well respected kokeshi artisans to this day.
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