The original Hakata Dolls me and my cousins made (Photo: Haruka Saijo)

Hakata Doll Painting Experience

Be creative on a traditional canvas

The original Hakata Dolls me and my cousins made (Photo: Haruka Saijo)
Haruka Saijo   - 3 min read

Looking for some great souvenirs to buy in Fukuoka? They have many specialty products that would be fantastic for a little delight for family and friends back home. In fact, nothing can beat the beauty and fine tenderness formed from techniques that have been handed down for over 500 years – the daintiness of Hakata Dolls, or Hakata Ningyo.

It is said that the 3rd generation of a professional tiler made some alcove ornaments, Noh masks, and dolls out of clay to present them to the feudal lord Kuroda Nagamasa, who was building the Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka at the time in 1601, and that this was the origin of the Hakata Doll. Later in the 19th century, an artisan started making unglazed clay dolls for the ordinary people, and that became the model of the Hakata Dolls we see nowadays. Since then, Hakata Dolls have been created throughout by every generation. While people preserved the traditional method of making the dolls, many artisans gradually added their own forms of improvement to help add their own piece of history to what is now the modern-day Hakata Doll.

Whilst buying Hakata Dolls can be a fun experience, I decided that getting involved would produce a better souvenir, both for myself, and whoever I would give the doll to. I discovered a very famous Hakata Doll shop called Hakata Shogetsudo which holds doll-painting sessions, so I decided to paint my own Hakata Doll. Whilst you technically should book in advance for the painting experience, the session goes on all day long, so you may be lucky enough to walk in later on and be allowed to paint some dolls with their permission.

The painting session itself flows very simply. First, you choose one unglazed clay doll you like from the options, and then, you just pick a seat and start creating your own Hakata Doll. There are many types of unglazed clay dolls to choose from, and the price range varies depending on the size and the shape, but basically one typically costs between 2000 to 3000 yen, which includes the price for the whole session. The paint they have has many color variations, and you can use them freely. Usually, it takes around two hours to finish painting one doll, and once you’re done, the staff come over and take some pictures of you and your doll before wrapping your precious, fragile artwork so that it won’t break easily.

Painting Hakata Dolls is very calming and relaxing. You can try it out when you’re feeling tired from all the walking and traveling in Fukuoka. It lets you forget about all your worries and frees you from any hindering thoughts, allowing you to exercise your creativity all the way. You will definitely feel better after you’ve painted your own doll. Along with your precious memory, your Hakata Doll will be beautiful and unique, making it one of the coolest souvenirs ever.

Haruka Saijo

Haruka Saijo @haruka.saijo

A Japanese university student that used to live in Canada, not so Japanese, loves traveling, enjoys experiencing anything new and exciting, and has passion for music.