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Book Review: NINGYO: The Art Of The Japanese Doll

The first comprehensive book on antique Japanese dolls published in English!

Ningyo - The Art of the Japanese DollNINGYO: The Art of The Japanese Doll, written by Alan Scott Pate, the leading expert on Japanese dolls in the US, is a stunning hardback coffee-table book published by Tuttle Publishing that focuses on an area of Japanese culture little explored by westerners.

More than a plaything, the Japanese doll is a decorative object that is the central focus of many festivals like the Hina Matsuri (the Girl’s Day Festival) which takes place in Japan every year in March. To the world outside Japan, Hina dolls with their elaborate well-detailed costumes are probably the most famous and instantly recognisable of all the Japanese dolls, but thanks to the author’s incredible published achievement, the reader is introduced to an array of other wonderful-looking dolls from the Edo period.  Great and influential figures of Japanese history such as Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98), considered the unifier of Japan, and legendary Zen monk and tea master Sen Rikyu (1522-91) are given coverage. As with all the dolls featured in the book, Sen Rikyu’s doll, which first appeared in the early nineteenth century, accompanied with his tools and equipment used to perform a tea ceremony, is exquisite and fantastically crafted down to the last detail. There are also some surprising additions to this book such as the Do-ningyo or ‘bronze doll’ which were later made from wood and other materials and commonly used by traditional acupuncturists. The author goes even further by concluding with a section on the Shunga doll, influenced no doubt by erotic Japanese woodblock prints.



Mitsuore Nodding Gosho-ningyo

Mitsuore Nodding Gosho-ningyo



The author’s knowledge is undeniable; his description for each doll featured is in-depth. He meticulously examines their history and, in many cases, their craftsmanship.  It’s clear from the well-written text that not only is the author a connoisseur of dolls and other Japanese antiques he’s also an expert on Japanese history and culture and has written widely in this field for several antique journals and other such like publications, and being the owner of the Japanese firm Akanezumiya, you know you are in good hands.



Takeda-ningyo - Watonai

Takeda-ningyo – Watonai

Many of us will never be fortunate enough to own a genuine antique Japanese doll, so NINGYO: The Art Of The Japanese Doll with its stunning illustrations consisting of 250 photographs by Manhatten-based photographer Lynton Gardiner, and its wealth of information is a pretty darn good substitute… for the time being, anyway. It’s a work of art in its own right and is a truly worthy book that belongs in everyone’s library.


  • GOSHO-NINGYO: Palace Dolls and Auspicious Festival
  • HINA-NINGYO: Dolls for the Girl’s Day Festival
  • MUSHA-NINGYO: Warrior Dolls for the Boy’s Day Festival
  • ISHO-NINGYO: Fashion Dolls and Popular Culture
  • NINGYO IN THE THEATER: Entertaining the Gods and Man
  • NINGYO AND HEALTH: Dolls as Talisman and Tool

NINGYO: The Art Of The Japanese Doll is available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com  


ISBN: 9780804836159
Format: Hardcover
Date Published: 7/15/2004
Illustrations: 250 color photos and b&w images
Number of Pages: 288
Length: 12
Width: 9
Weight: 65 oz
Kato Kiyomasa

Kato Kiyomasa

About the author:

Alan Scott Pate is the owner of the Japanese antique firm Akanezumiya in St. Ignatius, Montana, which specialises in religious and figural art of Japan from the Edo period and earlier. The leading expert on Japanese dolls in the US, he has curated exhibitions, lectured extensively on Japanese dolls, and published widely in journals focusing on Japanese antiques.

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  1. September 21, 2014 at 11:35 pm

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