By Akio Oikawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterTraditional hand-crafted hariko dolls are made by pasting pieces of paper in layers to make shapes. With their rounded forms, warm tactility 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, for example 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.
Maeda has made various hariko works based on materials related to the craft that she found in libraries and museums.
Her works include a fukusuke doll — a small man with a big head traditionally thought to bring good luck. He sits on his heels, has a topknot, and wears a formal kamishimo typical of samurai.
Maeda’s fukusuke is only about eight centimeters tall but projects a warm air of contentedness. Despite its size, the eyebrows and eyes are both delicately drawn and expressive.
Another hariko 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.
A hariko doll in the shape of a fukurasuzume, a sparrow with its feathers fluffed up, is believed to symbolize good luck and prosperity, and thus would make a suitable gift.
Inubako are pairs of containers, one shaped like a male dog and the other shaped like a female. They represent hope for a smooth pregnancy and a baby’s health and well-being.
Maeda pours her heart into making inubako boxes at a time when the number of children is declining.
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.