|"Dolls' Town" Blessed With Natural Environment;
Quality Wood and Water
Located almost in the center of Kanto Plain, Iwatsuki City in Saitama Prefecture is a castle town which was the capital of the fiefdom of the Iwatsuki clan. After Nikko Toshogu Shrine which enshrines Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868), was built in the early 17th century, the city prospered as a post-station town on the highway connecting the shrine and Edo (present-day Tokyo). Paulownia trees of good quality grew in abundance around Iwatsuki. Paulownia wood is very light, fine-grained, soft, and warp-resistant and is used for wooden productions. Iwatsuki was known as a production center of fine wooden products such as chests and geta (a traditional Japanese wooden footwear), and artisans here thought of making bodies of dolls by kneading and solidifying fine paulownia sawdust. Iwatsuki also had a good supply of water suitable for dissolving starch used to solidify paulownia dust. As a result, doll-making grew into a major industry of the town in the 17th century. That the town was fairly close to Edo, the nation's biggest market, also greatly helped the doll-making in Iwatsuki to develop.
Today, with more than 300 doll workshops and 100 doll retail shops, Iwatsuki City is by far Japan's largest "Doll's Town". The best-known products are dolls used for celebration for children to grow up in good health; "Hina-ningyo" for girls and "Gogatsu-ningyo" for boys. The city boasts many festivals and seasonal events related to dolls; most famous among them are "Nagashi-bina" (floating dolls on a river) on the Sunday before the Doll's Festival (March 3), a festival for girls, and "Ningyo-kuyo" (memorial service for dolls) on November 3.
Photos: The procedure of making Iwatsuki dolls (Iwatsuki Ningyo Kyodo Kumiai).
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