Hōko (doll)

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A hōko (這子, lit. "crawling child") is a kind of soft-bodied doll given to young women of age and especially to pregnant women in Japan to protect both mother and unborn child.[1] Traditionally, hōko dolls were made of silk and human hair,[2] and stuffed with cotton.[3] The dolls could be made for both boys and girls. Boys' dolls would be given up and "consecrated" at a shrine when boys came of age at 15-years-old,[4] while girls would give up their dolls at marriage.[4] The dolls were given to children either at birth, or on special days shortly after birth.[4]

Modern day hōko dolls have been created with technology to monitor babies.[5]


Hōko can be traced back to "talismanic figures" from early Japanese history,[1] and are likely related to the concept of using paper dolls (hina), as "stand-ins for people."[4] The use of katashiro (“substitutes”) in spiritual practice as stand-ins to take on the brunt of a person's sins or misfortune also played a role in the creation of hōko dolls[6] as well as for absentee family members (i.e. mother dolls for orphaned children).


Amagatsu (天児; derivation unclear), are another type of doll similar in function to the hōko doll, documented back to at least the 11th century with a mention in The Tale of Genji.[7] These were originally made of wood or bamboo, with the body and arms traditionally in a "T" shape and with a round head attached on top. Sources mentioning the specific term hōko start appearing in the Heian period, but are more apparent in the Muromachi period of Japan's history.[7] In later years, the amagatsu and hōko dolls became essentially the same thing, with the dolls more commonly made out of cloth and other soft materials.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b Pate, Alan S. (2005). Ningyo: The Art of the Japanese Doll. Singapore: Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 9781462907205.
  2. ^ Seton, Alistair (2012). Collecting Japanese Antiques. Singapore: Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 9781462905881.
  3. ^ "Glossary". Netsuke and Japanese Art Online Research Center. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d Pate, Alan. "The Hina Matsuri - A Living Tradition". Antique Japanese Dolls. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
  5. ^ "Discover Hoko". Hoko. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
  6. ^ Momo, Miyazaki (2014). Images of Familial Intimacy in Eastern and Western Art. Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV. pp. 224–225. ISBN 9789004261945.
  7. ^ a b Law, Jane Marie (1997). Puppets of Nostalgia: The Life, Death and Rebirth of the Japanese "Awaji Ningy?" Tradition. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 35. ISBN 9780691604718.
  8. ^ 1988, 国語大辞典(新装版) (Kokugo Dai Jiten, Revised Edition) (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Shogakukan
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