Kokeshi doll shopping: when my grandmother jumped in surprise

In the summer when I was five, the annual large family gathering took place in my hometown. Many relatives travelled from the Kanto region, and we all stayed at one of the famous hot spring resorts called Akiu onsen. The term resort suggests something very fancy, but a typical onsen resort in Japan is simply a small village with many traditional hot spring hotels and shops selling local food and crafts. The hotel we stayed at was also located in such a village. It was small, but of good quality with kind hosts, delicious meals, and beautifully-designed outdoor baths.

We all spent a fun and relaxing time at the hot spring hotel, and on the second day, after leaving the hotel, we took a moment to visit a few shops nearby before moving on to our next stop. Among the shops was a kokeshi shop.

In my home region, each hot spring resort has its own style of kokeshi dolls. They are handmade wooden dolls that were originally designed for little children as a toy more than 150 years ago, and depending on where they are made, their shapes and decoration styles are different. Nowadays, kokeshi dolls are popular souvenir items for the visitors. I had one at home from another onsen resort, and I liked its smooth, round head. So, when my parents told me about a kokeshi shop that morning, I got excited.

“I’m going to get one! I’m going to get one!”

Since my parents happened to be busy doing something else, my grandmother volunteered to accompany me to the shop and buy one kokeshi doll for me.

Hand in hand, we walked to the kokeshi shop, and opened the door. Inside the tiny store, there were many shelves, and each of them was packed with different kokeshi dolls.

“Wow, there are so many of them,” said my grandmother. “So, my sweetheart, which one do you want?”

As I looked around the room, my eyes caught the sight of one shelf that was located right above the cash. On it stood two large – extremely large – kokeshi dolls, one wearing blue kimono and the other red.

“I want that one.” I pointed to the two enormous kokeshi dolls near the ceiling.

My grandmother followed my finger and looked up. The moment she saw the size of the kokeshi dolls, she nearly fainted.

“T, T, THAT ONE?” she gasped. “You want that one?!”

But as soon as she recovered from the original shock, she called the shop clerk and asked him to take down the two kokeshi dolls from above so that I could have a look.

They were enormous indeed. And heavy. I loved them. Their big round heads were especially perfect to cuddle and caress. I chose the one with the red kimono, and my grandmother and I walked back to join the others. My mother was also shocked upon seeing the size of my new kokeshi doll, but I didn’t mind at all. Holding my new favourite kokshi doll in my arms, I was so happy to spend the rest of my day with it.