Northern Miyagi

Kokeshi Carving Experience at Sugawaraya

こけしの菅原屋 | Kokeshi no Sugawaraya

Learn from a professional kokeshi craftsman

Photo by Wesley Keppel-Henry

Photo by Wesley Keppel-Henry

Photo by Wesley Keppel-Henry

Photo by Wesley Keppel-Henry

  • Wesley Keppel-Henry

    Writer &
    2019–2021 Editor-in-chief

    Last Update
    December 3, 2019


  • Sugawaraya is a kokeshi doll workshop in Naruko Onsen, a hot springs village with a rich kokeshi-making tradition. Naruko kokeshi are one of the 230 "Traditional Japanese Craft" products officially recognized by the Japanese government. The Sugawaraya lineage itself dates back about 70 years, having branched off from an older progenitor workshop in 1950.

    Sugawaraya uniquely offers visitors the chance to not just paint, but actually carve their own kokeshi. Participants have free reign to create their kokeshi as they please, with Mr. Sugawara lending a helping hand only when he sees a fledgling woodworker flailing.

    My kokeshi carving experience began with a small cylinder of wood. Mr. Sugawara fitted it onto a lathe and showed me the tools I’d use to carve the doll: chisels of various widths. As Mr. Sugawara powered the lathe, I held a narrow chisel to the cylinder about three-quarters of the way up to begin shaping the neck. I struggled at first to hold the chisel steady as the cylinder spun. Noticing this, Mr. Sugawara stepped in and carved a shallow notch to help guide the chisel, then handed the blade back to me. After a few minutes, I got a feel for how the rotating cylinder felt under the blade and the carving process became pleasant and meditative.

    After the carving came painting. Mr. Sugawara showed me some examples of kokeshi painted in the traditional Naruko style for inspiration. He provided me with paints and a worksheet on which to practice my design. Once I’d finished painting my doll, he provided the finishing touch by waxing it on the lathe.

    I was surprised at how pleasant the lathe was to use. With Mr. Sugawara’s help, I—a first-timer—was able to achieve a good shape. And that final coat of wax went a long way towards lending even my amateur paint job some artisanal flair!


  • Northern Miyagi


    Art & Culture Do & See Naruko & Osaki Northern Miyagi Shopping



Kaminaruko 135 Narukoonsen, Ōsaki City, Miyagi Prefecture 989-6100


10-minute walk from Naruko-Onsen Station (Rikuu-East Line)


Free; carving experience ¥1,080


Not accepted


Japanese only



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