Yoshimasa Matsuo, Hakata Doll Maker
”It’s been 15 years since I started work as a doll maker, but more and more I find that my days are filled with tasks for the doll-makers union, and I don’t start creating dolls of my own until I get home,” says Mr. Yoshimasa Matsuo warmly. From his start as a young hand, he rose to mid-level Hakata doll maker, then director of the Hakata doll-maker’s union and chairman of the Hakata doll-maker’s youth group. As a result, he can no longer spend his entire day making dolls. His father was a Hakata doll-maker too, so he was raised in an environment where brush, clay, and paint were always close at hand. “I have a young child, so often everyone in the family goes to bed early, enabling me to get up early in the morning and get right to work.” says Mr. Matsuo, smiling. “I get a lot of orders for dolls, and I want to deliver them as fast as possible. That keeps me in the factory seven days a week.”
“Every year I concentrate on Chinese zodiac dolls. Things like a baby mouse clutching a treasure chest; a cow drinking milk or a rabbit resting in a crescent moon. They are palm-sized and cute to look at, so many people pick them up as souvenirs. They are zodiac dolls, but the ones we make can be displayed even after the New Year celebrations are over. We’ve increased the number of styles, and we now have a crystal series. We use high-quality natural crystals from Brazil, so they make powerful lucky charms.”
Mr. Matsuo also has experience collaborating with the English creative group The Designer’s Republic. He made a 3D version of a girl which was drawn first on a computer. Her expression is that of a lovely young girl, but she is hiding a bat behind her back. The concept, derived from American symbols, results in a memorable satirical piece.
He also has a 15-year relationship with Fukuoka apparel maker Tenkumaru. Originally Mr. Matsuo was an ordinary customer, but he happened to be wearing their clothing when he won first place in a competition, and the president of Tenkumaru just happened to see the article and got in touch. Since then they have collaborated on the “Nutty Rabbit” zodiac doll and the creation of boy’s dolls. They are sold and displayed in the store as novelty goods. The “nutty” dolls have a denim texture, and the influence of the apparel maker is very apparent.
Mr. Matsuo’s doll-making skills are widely known. He also creates cute bear and rabbit dolls for wedding ceremonies. From the original conceptual sketches to detailed meetings concerning prototypes, coloring, and packaging, he handles all aspects of making the dolls. His connection with Fukuoka’s traditional festivals is deep too. “I’m happy to be involved with the marble game during the ceremony of releasing captive animals, and the Yamakasa festival.”
Production demonstrations are held at the “Hakata Machiya Furusato-Kan” in Hakata’s Reisen-cho. In addition to coloring and the painting of the face, some of Mr. Matsuo’s completed works are also on display.
“I’ve heard the wives of doll makers say that they want to continue this work into their seventies and eighties. There really isn’t such a thing as “retirement” for doll makers. My husband’s parents are a role model for us, so I’m not worried,” says Mr. Matsuo’s supportive wife. To support her husband’s doll-making activities, she regularly updates her blog, “News from a Hakata doll-makers wife.” “I’d like him to concentrate on prototyping and the painting of the face, so I try to follow his work as much as possible,” says his wife, who also helps with business matters and doll-making. Housework and childcare is handled by whoever is free. The husband and wife work closely together to create Hakata dolls.
Mr. Matsuo is very clear about what his goals. “I want to ensure that the tradition of these dolls is carried down,” he concludes emphatically.