“A doll maker does not work in isolation.”

Toyo Mizoguchi, Hakata Doll Maker

“Master Shinkyo Nakamura taught me to go to see works being exhibited and to feel the real thing with my own hands,” explains Toyo Mizoguchi. There are certain things that are only offered by the real thing, and you can also get inspiration for your own work. Books covering various subjects line the bookshelf in Mizoguchi’s studio: Japanese hairstyles, The British Museum, Japanese national treasures, family crests in different countries, Hokusai, and so on. 

Mizoguchi, who is a member of the Japan Traditional Kogei Association (for which he became eligible after being accepted more than four times to exhibit in the Japan Traditional Kogei Exhibition), exhibited in the Kyushu National Museum in 2009 as part of a commemorative project for the western division of the same organization. The exhibition of the works of a living artist in a national museum is unusual, and this was an honor for Mizoguchi as a doll-maker. While the artist has received multiple awards, his piece titled “Moonlight,” which won the 2006 Western Kogei Exhibition Fukuoka Mayor’s Prize, can be considered his representative work. In creating this doll, Mizoguchi was inspired by the terracotta army of ancient China during the Qin dynasty. He imagined the figure standing in front of a castle wall, playing on his flute in the moonlight.

“The Shika Sea,” which depicts the goddess of Shikanoshima Island floating, bathing in the sea, is also a fascinating work. Mizoguchi explains that he wanted to express an abstract curve using a female figure. Viewing the piece, with its calm, feminine expression, has a soothing effect.

As a Hakata Doll maker, Mizoguchi felt moved to be involved in local festivals, and this led him to participate in the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival as a carrier for many years. Since 2014, he has been involved in the production of dolls for the kakiyama floats for Nakasu-nagare. “Following in the footsteps of the masters, this was the first time that I produced something for Yamakasa, so I certainly felt the pressure,” explains Mizoguchi. The Yamakasa festival is organized into themes. In order to create a balance between yin and yang, it is divided into two styles of floats: the heroic “Sashi-yama” with their courageous generals, and the “Dou-yama” which are decorated with things elegant and graceful, such as the content of fairy tales.

“Numbers one, three, five, and seven—the odd numbers—are the Sashi-yama (also known as 'man' Otoko-yama) and numbers two, four, and six—the even numbers— are the Dou-yama (also known as 'woman' Onna-yama) and it is customary to bring these forwards each year. If you understand these kinds of things, it is even more fun to watch the Yamakasa festival,” advises Mizoguchi.

Mizoguchi is always in search of subject matter for his work. “I have to be able to have several themes that allow me to express something deep quite strongly. A doll maker does not work in isolation, and so I value the relationships that I have, now and into the future,” says Mizoguchi. He finished by expressing his intention to keep making the kind of work that people can recognize as a Toyo Mizoguchi piece at a glance.