Treasures from John’s Collection: Momotarou 桃太郎
Momotarou has always been one of my favorite folk tales. And part of the fun of collecting any item is becoming familiar with all of the details associated with it and observing how well the artist has interpreted the theme. Are all of the iconic details present to make the figure easily identifiable? In more sophisticated pieces, are they present but require a little knowledge or detective work to discern?
For those of you who are not familiar with the tale, or those of you who would like to have your memories refreshed, please click on the image to the left. I’ve written my own version of the tale for your enjoyment.
The first doll I would like to present is one I have had for over thirty years, and it continues to be one of my favorites. This Momotarou stands only 15″ tall. In choosing a doll my first criterion is the countenance.

Does the figure invite me to find out more?
Click here to read
the Momotarou Story
I find the face of this Momotarou to be very engaging, and delicately executed. The face is gofun (胡粉) over composition paulownia wood (桐粉). Hand-painted glass eyes. The body is wood with wired arms.

My next criterion is quality of execution. Has the piece been executed with intent and skill? And further, in the case of traditional themes, how well has the iconographical check list been met?

This fellow meets all those standards. The fabric is well woven silk kinran (金襴). The fabric is sewn and not glued. There are no lapses in the craftperson’s attention to detail.

As for iconographic detail, there are two things that must be present for him to be Momotarou and dressed as a young warrior: Somewhere you must be able to see the image of a ripe peach, and he must have a nobori with the words Nippon Ichi (日本一) written upon it. (Nippon Ichi means Best in the Land!) This fellow has both. You can see the peach as the finial at the top of the staff, and also painted upon the nobori.
Momotarou heading out on his journey to save Japan
from a plague of Oni.

There is one more detail present that is not required but nice to have: He is carrying a bag of the treat kibidango (the little sack dangling from his left hand) prepared by his adoptive mother for his long journey.

Care may also be seen in other areas of construction. For instance, he has real suede tabi, stained to imitate the variety of smoked katazome tabi that would have been worn by an affluent warrior.
Careful Attention to Detail in Suede Tabi
Detail of Kinran Found on Jimbaori
A face expressing gentle confidence.
His clothing is of nicely woven silk kinran, metal details to his suit or armor, and a well detailed jinbaori with suede and silk appointments.
Another Momotarou doll in my collection is a style of construction called kimekomi (木目込み人形), in which fabrics are laminated to a hard wood substrate.
The older styles, and better quality kimekomi dolls have a solid wood core over which silks are adhered, as is the case with this example.
Notice the high sheen and smooth surface of Momotarou's face.
Kimekomi Momotarou
Karabana Pattern Kinran
The bodies of other newer or lesser quality ones, although often quite beautiful, are made with a paulownia composition (桐粉) core, as was discussed above.

The face and hands are gofun (胡粉) over carved paulownia wood (桐粉). The eyes are painted and face has a very high sheen.
Karabana Pattern Kinran
Although taste can enter into it, generally speaking the dolls with the higher sheen gofun faces are better quality. The gofun mixture is basically a powdered shell (again called gofun) mixed with nikawa (), a glue. The higher the concentration of nikawa, the higher the sheen. However, the higher the concentration of nikawa the greater the risk of having little bubbles form on the surface, making it look as if the doll has had a bad case of acne.
Kinran Pattern of Houju
As with the doll above, this Momotarou is modeling a wide range of exquisite kinran (金襴) textiles. These are just a couple of them.
Leaping Critter Kinran
Although this doll does not have a battle standard proclaiming him, “Best in the Land!” or even a peach design to be seen anyone about his person, it is still obvious that he represents Momotarou. This is mainly due to the fact that there are so few young boy warriors depicted in Japanese legends. The only other main contender is Kintarou (金太郎).