Dolls and the Tale of Genji

Some time back I brought you some posts on the amazing dolls being made by Octogenarian Andrea.

The collection Andrea is presenting today will astound you.

In the 11th century Heian Japan upper class women were well educated and many became writers. In fact at this time there were more female authors than male, and one of them was The Lady Murasaki Shikibu.

Fragments of Murasaki's diary survived, and from them we get a glimpse of Ancient Japan and the woman herself. It seems that when she was young she wrote stories for own enjoyment and to entertain her friends, all revolving around Genji, The Shining Prince. Later, when she became a lady at the court of the Empress, Murasaki's stories were very popular and she continued to write. Eventually they were collected together to become The Tale of Genji.

Anyone interested can read more on the Internet. The book is still popular and much research continues to be done into the book and Murasaki Shikibu. The many pictures on the websites helped me in designing the doll's costumes.

L-R: Ming-Gwok, The Lady Murasaki Shikibu, the Akashi girl, and far right - Genji, The Shining Prince Dolls by Andrea ©

Andrea explains the process involved in making the dolls.

When I saw a collection of Japanese dolls' heads in a collectables emporium I immediately thought of Genji. I have read the book more than once, and chose four heads which I could make into characters connected to the book.

Looking at the group photo (above) there are two pairs:

  1. The dolls on the left represent real people - The Lady Murasaki Shikibu and her Chinese friend Ming-Gwok.
  2. On the right we have two characters from the book - Genji, The Shining Prince and his daughter the Akashi girl who became Empress.

Behind them as backdrop is a painting by Jan Johnston - Navigating Difference.

Making the Dolls: General

The heads are early 20th century and are all made of some type of composition with different finishes. They are hollow which made them easier to attach to the bodies. Below you can see the Akashi girl without her hair and only wearing the first of many kimonos.

The Akashi girl in one of the early stages of creation by Andrea ©

I made the bodies from white cotton and as I filled them, pushed satay skewers down in the legs to give them some support. The arms I strengthened with fat chenille sticks (these are like over-sized pipe cleaners) which enabled them to be posed. Lastly I used short wooden craft sticks to attach the heads to the bodies, gluing the heads onto the sticks and when dry, pushing the sticks into the bodies and gluing the cotton material around the necks.

Ming-Gwok Dolls by Andrea ©

Each doll is on a stand. Because the ladies' clothes mostly hide their stands I made them simply from small flat boxes weighted with gravel and then glued on a wooden craft stick to which the bodies are wired. I wanted to give the impression that the men were standing on verandahs, so made their stands from small wooden craft cubes glued together on a cardboard base. I then decorated the glued on support sticks with small artificial flowers to give the effect of a nearby garden.

Ming-Gwok showing the stand Dolls by Andrea ©

And in this image (below) the garden on the back of Genji's stand can be seen.

Genji, the Shining Prince Dolls by Andrea ©

Three of the dolls have paper fans. You can see Genji's in his left hand above.

I found a good instructional video on the internet, making adjustments to the size. I used gift paper for Murasaki's fan (below) and for the other two plain paper decorated with tiny stickers. Tooth picks were just the right size for the ribs of the fans and for the wider ones at the ends I used stiff cardboard. The fans all have tassels with the ladies' having extras in the way of ribbons and small fancy buttons.

The Lady Murasaki Shikibu Dolls by Andrea ©

Two things to notice about the female figures.

  1. Their hair, which I made from fancy dress wigs (carefully cutting, sewing and gluing to size) is very, very long. This was considered to be a great beauty asset - definitely their crowning glory.
Backview of Lady Murasaki Shikibu Dolls by Andrew ©
  1. Their clothes. The ladies wear several layers, the sleeves of which are graduated in length so that all the edges show. Sitting by a window, or in a carriage, ladies would let their sleeves hang below the blinds which men found most alluring. A bit like showing a glimpse of frilly petticoat and ankle in Victorian times.

It was not uncommon for 20 kimonos to be worn, most of very thin material. I found small adhesive dots very useful for keeping the necklines in place.

Akashi Girl Dolls by Andrea ©

Lastly, Genji is speaking to his daughter (the Akashi girl) through a window. I made the ledge from a box weighted with pebbles and covered in brown paper. Next I glued a sushi mat over the box and covered the ends by gluing on small wooden craft cubes. The supports are wooden craft sticks and discs.

Genji, The Shining Prince speaking to his daughter through a window Dolls by Andrea ©

The Individual Dolls

On the left of the group we have Murasaki (wearing informal garb) and Ming-Gwok.

Musasaki has a short white silk kimono tucked into voluminous bright pink cotton trousers. Sometimes these trousers were white, but bright pink or red was more usual. She has four loose kimonos which I made from lingerie fabrics and as well as her fan she holds a few pages of a story.

Ming-Gwok and Lady Murasaki Shikibu Dolls by Andrea ©

Facing her, Ming-Gwok holds out his gift of a box of writing brushes. His hair, beard and moustache are original. His clothes consist of undergarments of a white silk short kimono tucked into trousers of the same material which are in turn tucked into black felt boots decorated with glued-on braid.

His outer garment is a silk jacket (lined), fastened with small buttons and a belt made of beads. The little box I made from cardboard, painted it black and on the lid drew a design in gold. Lastly I used clear nail varnish to lacquer it.

Ming-Gwok with his gift of writing brushes for Murasaki Dolls by Andrea ©

On the right of the group we have the Akashi girl and Genji.

The Akashi girl and Genji, the Shining Prince Dolls by Andrea ©

The Akashi girl is in formal dress. Like Murasaki she wears a short white silk kimono tucked into very full pink cotton trousers. Then come five kimonos of light lingerie fabric, tied at the side with matching cords of embroidery thread, and a brocade kimono fastened with a thin girdle. Finally she has a loose brocade robe lined with a thin, but stiff material.

Backview of the Akashi girl who became Empress Dolls by Andrea ©

Her hair is partially pinned up at the back and decorated with small artificial roses held in with short hat pins. The rest of her hair is tied with narrow ribbons. The head-dress I made from a piece of braid, a broken earring and glued on decorative flowers. I then painted it gold and glued on small pearl beads plus strings of tiny pearl beads. It is attached to her hair with pearl-headed pins.

Genji (below) wears a short kimono and under trousers of white silk. He has very full brocade trousers (lined to hold their shape) over which he wears a short kimono. His outer garment is a lined brocade robe fastened at the shoulder with small gold beads and he has a leather belt decorated with a fancy buckle and two strings of beads. His shoes are simple, slipper-like, and made of black felt. For his hat I covered a small tin with felt and added a piece of stiff felt for the piece that sticks up and lastly glued on a short length of ribbon.

© A very special thank you to Octogenarian Andrea for sharing her dolls with us. They are so skillfully and beautifully made with amazing attention to achieve the correct historical details. Andrea has provided the explanation describing how the dolls were made as shown in this post.

Do you love dolls especially if they have been handmade? The check out other posts on dolls made by Octogenarian Andrea.

Doll Making with Octogenarian Andrea
Meet the amazing dolls being made by “Octogenarian Andrea” from country Victoria, Australia who will take you on a journey through Seasons, Nursery Rhymes, Shakespeare and much, much more. Join us in the wonderful world of creativity, imagination and skill.
The Hippy Elves
In our second post on the dolls being created by “Octogenarian Andrea” we meet The Hippy Elves! They are wild and free and today were learn from Andrea how she made them and importantly where their journey might be taking them.
Commedia dell’arte: Part One
Octogenarian Andrea today presents for you a “little touch of class’ in showcasing dolls from the theartical world of “Commedia dell’arte” which originated in Italy and popular in Europe in the C16th - C18th.
Commedia dell’arte Part Two
Octogenarian Andrea takes us into her world of her hand crafted “Commedia dell’arte” dolls with the showcasing of Harlequin, Pierrette, Pierrot, Columbine and Puncinella.

© Thank you to Octogenerian Andrea who kindly gave permission for the images of her work and description to be shared on AnArt4Life.