Musha Ningyo: Japanese Warrior Dolls

The Sam Noble Ethnology collection has a set of Japanese Musha Ningyo (warrior) dolls that were created for Gogatsu, or “Boys’ Day” held annually on May 5th. Girls have Hina Matsuri, the Doll Festival, held on March 3rd. Unlike Hina Matsuri, a doll display is not required for Gogatsu. The most important festive item is a banner or windsock in the shape of a carp attached from a pole near the home (Figure 1). Traditionally, one fish is raised for each boy child, however since 1948, the Gogatsu holiday was rededicated by the Japanese government to include all children (Kodomo no hi). Ever since, families hoist a carp banner for each child. The carp symbolizes strength for its determination to swim upstream. Even though dolls are not required for Gogatsu, many dolls have been purchased and displayed for the occasion. The most popular are soldiers and infamous generals, legendary rules, and boy heroes. Tigers, representing Japan’s relationship with Korea, and a white horse, symbolizing the Emperor, are also common. A doll that represents an armed soldier or lord is a Musha ningyo. The five dolls described below are a mix of famous boy heroes, generals, and legendary rulers.

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Figure 1. Carp windsocks, courtesy of BBC Two YouTube video: Children’s Day Festival-Japan: Earth’s Enchanted Islands

 

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Figure 2. Kintaro Doll

Kintaro (Golden Boy) is a popular young hero who is displayed during Gogatsu to inspire boys to have courage and bravery. He is known as the Japanese “Hercules” for his incredible strength. Kintaro was known to uproot trees to create bridges over torrential mountain streams. Kintaro was the son of an officer of the imperial guards who fell into disgrace and took his own life. His mother, Yaegiri, described as a beautiful courtesan, escaped to Mount Ashigara. Some accounts say that she raised Kintaro, while others suggest that she abandoned the infant and he was nursed by mountain witches, yama-uba. Kintaro’s first companions were the wild animals of the forest. There are stories of Kintaro racing against the animals and he is often depicted as either riding a bear, welding an ax, or judging a wrestling match between the animals. Most depictions of Kintaro have the character welding an ax, but this doll holds a rope (Figure 2). Unlike the other dolls, Kintaro’s skin has a reddish tone, indicating the character’s relationship with the natural elements. When he became an adult, Kintaro was approached by Raiko’s (legendary heroic leader) retainer, Watanabe no Tsuna. Tsuna recruited Kintaro to be one of the Four Guardian Kings, protectors of Raiko. Kintaro’s name was changed to Sakata no Kintoki and as one of the Four Guardian Kings, they are credited with exterminating all the monsters, ogres, and demons in Japan.

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Figure 3. Momotaro, front side.

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Figure 4. Momotaro, back side. 

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Momotaro Doll

Asia: Japan

Wood, Textile, Porcelain, Hair/Fur, Other Metal

Momotaro is another highly popular boy hero. A childless old elderly couple found a the boy in a large peach. They name him Momotaro (Peach Boy). He becomes a valiant youth, and befriends a monkey, a dog, and a pheasant. Together, they traveled to Devil’s Island (Onigashimu) to slay the demons and bring home treasures. Here is a version of the story, written in 1908 by Y.T. Ozaki: Momotaro, or The Story of the Son of a Peach. Momotaro’s legend became an emblem of modern Japanese nationality in the late 19th and 20th centuries. According to Dr. Klaus Antoni, professor from the University of Tuebingen, Momotaro’s legend was used as war propaganda for young school pupils. Devil’s Island is alluded to be Hawaii and the devils to be the American soldiers. There were also two animated films Momotaro’s Sea Eagles in 1943 and Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors in 1945 (Figure 5), which was also the first full-length Japanese animation film. Both were directed by Mitsuyo Seo, who was ordered by the Japanese Naval Ministry to make these propaganda films. Both films are available on YouTube. Click on the film titles above to watch the films.

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Figure 5. Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors, photo courtesy of Crunchyroll. 

After WWII, Momotaro’s status as war propaganda diminished and the legendary character remains as a popular model for courage and bravery. This Momotaro doll (Figure 3) holds a standard in his left hand with Japanese Hirigana characters for Nihon ichi, meaning “Japan #1.” There is a peach on the end of the standard, and a symbol of a peach on the back of his vest (Figure 4). He wears a bright orange samurai outfit and a Kabuto helmet. Underneath his helmet, Momotaro’s hairstyle is a chonmage (topknot), often associated with the Edo period. Unlike Kintaro, this Momotaro doll has pale white skin, indicating youth and purity.

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Figure 6. Minamoto no Yoshisune Doll

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Minamoto no Yoshisune Doll

Asia: Japan

Paper, Textile, Porcelain, Hair/Fur

Like the Momotaro doll, the Yoshitsune doll is wearing a bright orange samurai outfit and has a similar Kabuto helmet (Figure 6). However, Yoshitsune is wearing more armor and is holding a tassel in his left hand. Minamoto no Yoshisune was a great young general of the late 12th century. When Yoshisune’s father, Minamoto Yoshitomo, was killed in the Heiji Distrubance (1159), Yoshisune was raised in a Buddhist monastery. According to a popular legend, he encountered Benkei, a warrior monk on a bridge.  They crossed swords. Benkei was defeated by Yoshisune and became his retainer (Figure 7). When Yoshisune was 15, he left the monastery to join his older brother, Minamoto no Yoritomo. Yoshisune became a general quickly due to his talent of military leadership in the Genki and Heike wars between the Minamoto and Taira clans. Thus, he became popular in the Emperor’s court. Yoritomo became jealous of Yoshitsune’s popularity and branded Yoshisune as a traitor. Yoshitsune tried to raise a rebellion against his brother. When he failed, he wandered Japan for several years as a fugitive before his forced suicide. Yoritomo brought Japan under his control and became the first Shogun.

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Figure 7. Yoshisune and Benkei Japanese Print, courtesy of the Honolulu Museum of Art

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Figure 8. Jimmu Tenno Doll

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Jimmu Tenno Doll

Asia: Japan

Porcelain, Textile, Hair/Fur, Wood, Plastic

Jimmu Tenno is known as the first emperor of Japan (Figure 9). He is the grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu. Not much is told of this quasi-historical figure. As told in the Kojiki, “Records of Ancient Matters,” the oldest accounts of the myths surrounding the origins of Japan, one of Jimmu’s retainers dreamt of a magic sword, sent by Amaterasu, to give to Jimmu. The retainer woke up, located the sword, and presented it to Jimmu. Jimmu used the blade to pacify the central Land of the Reed Plain (Yamato), built a palace there, and married a local princess of divine ancestry.

The Jimmu Tenno doll wears two of the Sacred Treasures of Japan around his neck: The Divine Mirror and the Yasakani no Magatama jewels (Figure 8). The sword on his back might be the third treasure, the Kusanagi sword. These treasures are signs of his divine ancestry. This doll is noticeably more realistic than the others. Also, instead of samurai armor, he is wearing brocaded clothing in an ancient Chinese style, another indication of his legendary status. The bird next to Jimmu’s foot, a kite, was originally on his hand.

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Figure 9. Jimmu Tenno Japanese Print, courtesy of Toshidama Galley. 

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Figure 10. Toyomi Hideyoshi and Kato Kiyomasa Dolls. 

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Toyomi Hideyoshi Doll

Asia: Japan

Wood, Textile, Porcelain, Hair/Fur, Metal, Paper

Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590-98 was a general of peasant birth, not of samurai descent (Figure 11). He completed the 16th century unification of Japan after more than two centuries of feudal warfare. He prohibited the use of swords by farmers, merchants, and monks and introduced the shi-nō-kō-shō which froze class distinctions by separating warriors, farmers, artisans, and tradesmen. Each class lived in different areas of a town or village. The purpose was to promote order in a feudal society. Since he was originally a peasant, Hideyoshi was illiterate and considered uncultured. He secretly educated himself, wrote poetry, and learned the intricate rituals of the tea ceremony. He fought in numerous battles, and invaded Korea twice, until his death at the age of 62, but he did not ever proclaim himself as Shogun.

The Hideyoshi doll (sitting on the horse) has a helmet with a metal sunburst fanning out from the back (Figure 9). Much like the Jimmu Tenno doll, Hideyoshi and the second man, who is probably Kato Kiyomasa, Hideyoshi’s general, look realistic, including flesh-tone skin rather than the distinctive white pale completion of Momotaro and Yoshisune.  Kato Kiyomasa is from the same town and not from samurai descent. He was a formidable fighter and leader, and aided in the invasion of Korea. The prints of Kiyomasa show him with a long, thick beard, and wearing a distinctive silver conical helmet with antlers (Figure 12).

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Figure 11. Toyomi Hideyoshi Japanese Print, courtesy of thinklink. 

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Figure 12. Kato Kiyomasa, Hideyoshi’s general Japanese Print, courtesy of The British Museum 

(Caitlin Severs)

References/Further Readings

Antoni, Klaus. 1991. “Momotaro (The Peach Boy) and the Spirit of Japan: Concerning the Function of a Fairy Tale in Japanese Nationalism of the Early Showa Age.” Asian Folklore Studies. 50.1: 155-188.

Barbanson, Adrienne. 1961. Fables in Ivory: Japanese Netsuke and Their Legends. Tuttle: North Clarendon, Vermont. Pg. 76.

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Minamoto-Yoshitsune

Kigawa, Michiyo. “Kodomo no hi: Children’s Day Celebration,”

http://aboutjapan.japansociety.org/kodomo_no_hi_childrens_day_celebration#sthash.71W2Z76N.dpbs.

Kuwata, Tadachika. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Toyotomi-Hideyoshi.

Shoaf, Judy. 2015. “Gogatsu or ‘Boys’ Day’: Hero Dolls,” https://people.clas.ufl.edu/jshoaf/japanese-dolls/gogatsu/.

Shoaf, Judy. 2015. “The Uses of Japanese Dolls,” https://people.clas.ufl.edu/jshoaf/japanese-dolls/doll-uses/.

Willis, Roy G. Ed. 1993. World Mythology. Henry Holt and Company: New York. Pg. 121-122.

 

 

 

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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