The Ando Japanese Doll Shop in Kyoto

An empress doll showing off her many layered Kimono - Ando Dolls

Walking into the machiya, the traditional low beamed style house, you could feel the years of history surrounding us as we entered the Ando Japanese Doll Shop in Kyoto. Famous for their hina dolls, which originate from the Heian Era as a gift from grandparents or parents to child as part of a prayer of good health and happiness, we were warmly ushered into a series of rooms showcasing just a small sample of the stores work.

Hina dolls can be characterised by their multi-layered kimonos which finish in a long sleeve design, and the dolls hand position which form a triangle indicating balance.

Many Ando Dolls on display in the Ando Dolls store in Kyoto, Japan

male doll created by Ando in Kyoto, Japan

The creator, Ando, with one of his Emperor dolls in Kyoto, Japan

A Family Tradition

With mass production wide spread today, the Ando Doll Shop aims to preserve the traditional ways of doll-making with less than ten staff members which complete each process by hand. Ando Tadahiko (above) is the third generation master craftsman who now runs the store having had the title passed down from his father, second generation Contemporary Master Craftsman Ando Keiho, who still works beside his son to make Hina dolls.

The hina dolls created by the Ando family are so highly valued that they have been presented to royalty. In 2007 a specially tailored doll made by combining Japanese silk embroidery, a regional speciality, and Thai silk were used to create a unique set of hina dolls for the King of Thailand.

Hina dolls have also been presented to the Premier of China and the President’s of Russia’s wife.

Ando doll faces in Kyoto, Japan

Making the dolls

Making the hina dolls is a long process with the silk hair alone taking 1-year to create but the Ando family are happy continuing their traditional ways of craftsmanship. Ando Tadahiko‘s wife explains that their family is so healthy from absorbing all the positive energy of the hina dolls everyday.

Speaking with Ando Tadahiko through a translator he explained how the most difficult part of making the dolls is ensuring the angles for arms are correct.

One of the most important parts of the doll is dressing it in the many layered kimono which he leaves to his wife. The colour scheme chosen is what injectes life into the doll.
Traditionally the face of the doll clamshell powder as it whitens the porcelain and creates a particular shine to the areas where it is applied. This process is not often done any more as it’s time consuming and quicker methods have been found, such as using plaster.
It is not until the final stages when each doll is taken through an eye opening ceremony, something that is continued today; Only then is the doll living.

Many people try to mimic the style of hina doll the Ando family are so famous fore. You can find replica dolls in supermarkets which are made in China with clothes made in Vietnam but the traditional dolls are made in Kyoto, with all the processes making up a term which is called Kyoto brand, meaning each process has been made in the city, from the arms to the legs, the obi belt, hair, and symbols.
Kyoto brand hina dolls can be identified by the eyes being half closed and a gentle face, both features mimicking Buddhas, which is why they are such popular gifts to children from family as it is similar to having Buddha watching over them.

Retirement Ando Dolls in Kyoto, Japan

Dolls for different occasions

Aside from the traditional Emperor and Empress dolls (above) the Ando Japanese Doll Shop make a variety of other hand made dolls for special occasions.

Kanreki celebration dolls (above) in their red layered kimono are popular gifts for people when they turn 60-years-old as it is the age of retirement and the Japanese believe you are reborn at this age. You can continue presenting Kanreki dolls from the age of 60 as each doll has a different colour depending on the age you turn up to 99.

The Ando Dolls shop had no intention to sell these dolls originally but after Ando Tadahiko created one for his wife people asked if he could continue creating them. Each kanreki doll takes about 2-years to create, and the Ando dolls store are now the only store which create hina kanreki dolls.

Ando doll in Kyoto, Japan

Ichimatsu dolls (above), with their androgynous features, are named after a famous kabuki actor, Sanoawa Ichimatsu. At the Ando Doll Shop you can take part in a Ichimatsu Doll fitting experience which takes around 2hours to participate in.

After learning about the history of the doll and choosing how your doll is going to be styled you will be taken through the steps to fit your dolls clothing. It is tough to fit some of the clothing as each layer gets built upon it becomes harder to push the pins in which hold the material steady.
After you have finished styling your doll you will get a souvenir photo taken and enjoy tea time with the master instructor.

Make your own Ando doll in Kyoto, Japan

The gentleness a woman can bring

Whilst Ando Tadahiko was full of jokes and stories it was his wife with whom we fell in love with. From her beautifully embroidered obi belt to her facial expressions and smile as she explained to us about the processes the dolls were taken through before they were on display to the public.

As the hina doll dresser she explained how each layer is specially chosen and how there is no set number of layers to a dolls kimono rather is is about the balance that the kimono creates.

She even joked that hina dolls wear so many layers because winter in Kyoto is so cold!

Mrs Ando's obi belt with Ando dolls in kimonos on it in Kyoto, Japan

Mrs Ando smiles whilst holding an Empress doll in Kyoto, Japan

Mrs Ando in Kyoto, Japan gazing at an Emperor doll

Ando Dolls in Kyoto, Japan - Mrs Ando smiling

She even let me hold one of the Empress Hina dolls but not before I donned gloves!

Nicole and Mrs Ando holding an Empress doll in Kyoto, Japan

To visit the Ando Doll Store visit their website for more information.
The shop is located at Marutamachi-agaru, Aburakoji-dori, Kamigyo, Kyoto 602-8034 

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  • Reply
    May 23, 2012 at 6:35 am

    That’s amazing! I didn’t get out to Kyoto when I was in Japan last time but I did go to a few doll stores in Tokyo when I was there. This one looks really intricate though! Hopefully I’ll make it out there someday!

    • Reply
      May 29, 2012 at 3:21 am

      It’s a beautiful place to visit and home to some very skilled traditional craftsmen, though I’m sure the places in Tokyo were gorgeous as well.

      Thanks for commenting!

  • Reply
    Oneika the Traveller
    May 23, 2012 at 7:00 am

    These are just lovely! Yet another reason I need to make it to Japan!

  • Reply
    May 23, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    I’ve seen the Hina dolls in one of my local shopping mall, Pavillion. They’re just for display though.. very interesting 🙂

  • Reply
    May 23, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    so cute Japanese dolls, i like it.

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