Yuutaro Oono was born in Tokyo in 1935. He is currently the CEO of Ohno Seimitsu Kogyo Co. Ltd.
After graduating from Hokunoujima Technology High School, Mr. Oono was employed by an 8mm film company. In 1978, he started Ohno Seimitsu Kogyo Co. Ltd which specializes in making gears. He also dedicated himself to bringing back Karakuri dolls , which were popular in the Edo period, to modern times, using the advanced techniques of modern gear making.
Mr. Oono first learned about Karakuri in an engineering book and he became passionately interested in them. He had acquired a copy of “Karakuri-zui”, an illustrated compendium of mechanical devices written by Hanzou Hosokawa, a legendary karakuri artisan of the Edo period. Mr. Oono began studying the book intensely and, for the last 20 years, he has been reproducing the Karakuri dolls most loved by people in the Edo period such as “tea serving doll”, “shinan guruma” and the “Karakuri clock”.
Each doll is made using about 80 different parts, not counting its face and clothing. The dolls are created in such a way as to preserve traditional methods as much as possible. The fusion of the Edo period and modern times shows both beauty and functionality.
Mr. Oono’s next project is to bring back “Yumihari Warawa, or “ Boy Archer”, which shows a boy shooting an arrow at a target. His tremendous respect for the Karakuri artists of the Edo period motivates him to try to recreate the Karakuri Dolls most beloved in that period, so that people can remember and appreciate their heritage.
The word Karakuri was used to describe traditional Japanese mechanical devices. In the Edo period especially, gears from clocks were first used to make moving dolls and the elaborate Karakuri doll tradition began.
It was Hanzou Hosokawa from the Tosa region who first revealed to the general public the way the Karakuri work, using easily understood illustrations. His book, Kkarakuri-zui, had a tremendous impact on many artisans who later developed their own techniques in the field. This book is considered to be the foundation of Japanese robotic technology.
In the 20th century, acrylic resin was invented and the Karakuri techniques were handed down to Yuutarou Oono. Mr. Oono not only successfully revived Hosokawa`s Karakuri but, in a similar spirit of openness, he made them out of transparent acrylic. It is exciting to see a doll in a beautiful kimono bringing and serving tea but people were doubly delighted to to see the dolls’ inner workings as well. The transparent gears developed by modern technology allowed this to be possible.
It is the spirit of true Karakuri artists to honor the people’s desire to know and also create such beautiful dolls that are totally in keeping with the Japanese people’s sense of esthetics.
Karakuri Ningyo or Karakuri Dolls are traditional mechanical dolls of Japan.
“Karakuri” means a mechanical device to amuse people and they were originally found in China around 10th century. Karakuri Dolls are said to have been introduced to Japan in the Muromachi period.
In the Edo period, the gear mechanisms used for clocks began to be used to make moving dolls and the production of Karakuri Dolls began.
At first, they were made as toys mostly for the upper class. They gradually became a popular attraction at amusement parks and widely seen in all over Japan.
In 1662, Oue Takeda began a touring Karakuri-Doll-theater, something unique at the time and during the Kyoho period (1716~1735), Karakuri Monya, using the best Karakuri techniques then available, made a four-wheeled vehicle that was propelled by pedaling.
At the end of the Edo period, Hisashige Tanaka, known as Karakuri Giemon, created “Yumihiki Douji” (the Boy Archer), which is regarded the highest standard of Karakuri dolls made in Edo period.
Karakuri dolls are traditional Japanese precision machines considered to be the foundation for today’s industrial robots.
The paint brush known as hake has been used since ancient times. According to some documents dating back to Heian period, feathers from millet plants were used to paint lacquer onto such things as bowls and bows and arrows.
Edo Hake was an important tool and played a vital role for Edo-influenced artisans from various fields. The word, Edo Hake, first appeared in a product guide book called “Mankin-sugiwai-bukuro”, published in the middle of Edo period. In the book, Edo Hake was introduced as a brush to apply glue for mounting. There are seven kinds of brushes that are designated as Edo Hake: Kyouji Hake, Senshoku Hake, Ningyou Hake, Urushi Hake, Mokuhan Hake, Oshiroi Hake and Tosou Hake.
Modern Edo Hake now uses human hair and animal hair such as horse, deer and goat as well as plant fibers from box tree and hemp palm. Because many hairs are curly to some degree and contain oil, both of which prevent craftsmen from attempting subtle work, a good part of the production process is dedicated to strengthening the hair and eliminating grease from the hair.
The most vital part of the brush is the edge of the hair which is evaluated for its evenness and firmness. It is an essential job for the brush makers to make a careful examination in selecting the best materials.
Obake no Kinta or Kinta the Ghost is a folk toy that originated in Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture.
The toy consists of a head with a string in the back of it. When the string is pulled, Kinta rolls his big round eyeballs and sticks out his tongue. A bamboo spring is concealed in his head which, when pulled, triggers the eyes and the tongue to move at the same time. Kinta with his red face and a black conical hat makes a striking impression on small children and he often scares them a little. He is a popular toy among adults, however. The most important process in making this toy is the making of the bamboo spring. The quality of this spring determines the quality of the toy.
When Kato Kiyomasa built the Kumamoto Castle, there was a popular foot soldier named Kinta who had a funny face and who was good at making people laugh. He was affectionately called “Clown Kinta”. The Kinta the Ghost toy was said to have been created during the Kanei era (1848 ~ 1853) by a doll maker, Hikoshichi Nishijinya, who started making mechanical toys based on stories about Kinta. Because of his unique action, Kinta the Ghost was also known as the Goggle-eyed Doll.
Hishio Festival held in early May at Kamizaki Shrine in the Kamezaki district of Handa City, Aichi Prefecture, has a long history. One theory states that it dates back to the late 15th century, but its origin is unknown. It is a nationally designated Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
Five festival floats, all of which were constructed in the late Edo period (the 19th century), are pulled down to the beach in front of the shrine when the tide ebbs, which originates in the legend that the enshrined deity landed on this village from the sea; hereby it was named “Hishio,” meaning “low tide.”
The floats are then pulled up to the bank of the beach and stand closely side by side. The line of gorgeously decorated floats looks very impressive. After the Karakuri doll performance, which is solely seen in the areas around Chita Peninsula, is done on the upper story of the floats, they are pulled around the town.
As the wheels of the floats are removed and buried in the sand of the beach after the festival to prevent corrosion, the preparation of the festival starts with digging them out, which is followed by assembling of the floats, Ohayashi music practice, and so on. It takes more than one month to prepare for the festival.
Sawa Shrine in Nishina in Nishiizu Town, Shizuoka Prefecture, is an old shrine, which enshrines the deity of a bumper catch and navigation safety. According to the shrine record, the shrine was endowed with the landownership of shipbuilding village by Emperor Sujin (B.C. 97-30).
The Sanbaso dance dedicated at the annual autumn festival of the shrine held on November 2 and 3 every year is performed as a Japanese-styled puppet play (Ningyo-Joruri). It is said that Ningyo-Joruri performance was introduced to this area during the Keicho era (1596-1614) by Okubo Nagayasu, who was a Sarugaku performer and came to this province as Magistrate of Izu Gold Mine. Ningyo-Joruri was first performed at this shrine in celebration of the large scale refurbishment of the shrine building in 1825. Since then the tradition has been handed down by the local young people.
The dedicated plays are “Hinoiri-Sanba (the Setting-sun Sanba)” on the first night, and “Hinode-Sanba (the Rising-sun Sanba)” on the second night. Each of the three dolls, Chitose, Okina and Sanbaso, is operated by three doll handlers. The troupe, composed of 22 people including drum and flute players and Joruri chanters, performs the Sanbaso dance in accordance with the traditional styles and leads the spectators to the fantastic world.
Climbing Monkey is a folk toy that has been handed down for years in the Nobeoka, Miyazaki Prefecture. The toy is put up on a bamboo pole along with Koinobori or carp shaped streamers on “Boy’s Day” – May 5th to pray for the children’s good health and prosperity in the future. When the wind blows, the monkey starts climbing up the pole.
The making of the Climbing Monkey toy is said to have started around 200 years ago as a homemade craft by the samurai wives of the Nobeoka Naitou Clan. There are some popular myths as to why a climbing monkey first appeared. One story says that it was created to admonish Sarutahiko, a Monkey God during the mythical age, who acted violently and ran amuck. Another story is that, before he was victorious in battle, the head of the Arima Clan, a previous occupant of the region prior to the Nobeoka Clan, had a monkey drawn on the war banner that he carried on his back.
The toy is made by first creating a monkey shaped wooden mold. The mold is wrapped with many layers of Japanese paper and then, the back of it is cut to remove the mold. The remaining paper is then stitched up before it is colored. The monkey wears the golden-striped eboshi headgear worn by court nobles and it carries a kozutsumi drum and a gohei (a wand with paper streamers) on its back. His appearance resembles a dancer who performs the celebratory dance before a Kabuki performance. The monkey is then suspended from a banner on which iris flowers are drawn. Although it is not a modern creation, Climbing Money continues to delight children into the 21st Century.