The city of Fukuoka’s most famous traditional craft and tourist souvenir is the Hakata ningyo doll. They are fired clay figurines sculpted and painted into a wide variety of traditional Japanese characters including women in kimono, children, geisha, kabuki and Noh characters, samurai, gods of good fortune, sumo wrestlers, and Oriental zodiac animals.
Hakata dolls originated over four centuries ago in 1600 when daimyo Kuroda Nagamasa (黒田長政) moved here to govern the Fukuoka (Chikuzen) domain granted by Tokugawa Ieyasu. Nagamasa encouraged the development of local traditional crafts and Hakata ningyo was one of them. Local craftsmen first created unglazed clay dolls, then later painted and sculpted them in more detail. The dolls became quite popular even overseas during the early 1900s.
I quickly discovered Hakata ningyo on my first trip to Fukuoka years ago. JR Hakata Station, the end of the line on the Tokaido/Sanyo shinkansen, had many Hakata doll stores and it was great fun browsing all the dolls (and prices) on display. Hakata Station was the best place to see and buy Hakata ningyo. These photos were all taken at Hakata Station.
The photo on the upper left shows a white kimono doll holding a fan. It’s titled “Suehiro” (末広) or “gradual prosperity” as symbolized by the fan opening up. It’s one doll I bought on my first trip to Fukuoka. Surprised to see it still being sold years later on another trip. In the lower left photo, you might recognize the Kagami-jishi (white) and Renjishi (red) lion dancers from kabuki. The right photo has a small sumo wrestler on the lower left corner.
JR Hakata Station once had as many as ten Hakata doll shops. However, over the years, the number of Hakata doll shops in the station dwindled to only two. People weren’t buying them anymore. Hakata dolls were once popular with business travelers and kids on school trips, but not anymore. Even the opening of the new Kyushu Shinkansen from Hakata to Kagoshima in 2011 hardly increased doll sales.
Finally in June 2019, Hakata Station’s last two Hakata doll shops (Masuya and Hakusen) sadly shut down due to sagging sales. This created shockwaves locally and throughout the Hakata doll industry. The city and prefecture’s most famous souvenir no longer at Hakata Station, Kyushu’s main gateway! I was shocked to read about this.
Hakata dolls are still sold at the main stores elsewhere in the city or online, but none are inside the train station. I will certainly miss seeing those dolls on my next trip to Fukuoka.
Masuya’s main store is not too far from the station. Support local traditional crafts by buying a Hakata doll when you visit Fukuoka.