Turning Ayumi Hamasaki into a Hakata Doll

Youichi Nishiyama, Hakata Doll Artist

Youichi Nishiyama made up his mind to be a craftsman when he was in elementary school, where he was already devoted to making things with his hands. After doing numerous arts and crafts courses at high school, he majored in fine art at Kyushu Sangyo University. He studied painting, design and pottery during his freshman year, but it was when he encountered sculpture that he right away felt “This is it!” Without a second thought, he decided to become a sculptor. Nishiyama started to study under Nobumasa Kunisaki, the Hakata doll master, at the age of twenty-four, in 2003. In the very same year, he got a Yoichi-Sho Tokusen award – the second highest honor – among young artists, going on to win the highest honor after three more years. In 2010 he was awarded the top prize of the Fukuoka Chamber of Commerce and Industry for his dolls, marking another significant step in his career.

Highly skilled in molding and catching a likeness, Nishiyama also surprises with the sensitive coloring of his dolls. One of his Hakata doll pieces “Hagoromo,” (meaning “robe of feathers”) is based on a Japanese Noh play, a popular theme for Hakata dolls. Nishiyama expresses the beauty of Noh’s slow and deliberate movement through the texture of the silk kimono. He even crafted each tiny piece of the crown-like headpiece himself with special tools.His work does not only involve traditional Hakata dolls. Nishiyama was the only professional Hakata doll maker among eight artists who participated in the recent Hakata doll event, “Four Maiko.” (The other participants were illustrators, graphic designers, and painters.) Nishiyama is also famous for making “Ayupan” – the mascot character of the J-Pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki from the Avex label – as a Hakata doll. The limited and numbered edition of 300 Ayupan Hakata dolls sold out within ten minutes and generated plenty of media buzz.

Nishiyama has produced other kinds of art too. For example, he created a welcome board for the wedding of some friends using clay and fibre-reinforced plastic. He also made “Kasaboko” ornaments for people to wear at the Hakata Dontaku festival. “I would like to try to make something large like the hagoromo my Hakata doll master made. It took him a full year to make it and it’s now displayed at the Fukuoka International Congress Center.” I’m sure Nishiyama will make his dream come true. He’s very much a man of his word.