Japanese dolls. Japanese decorative and folk-art dolls trace their origin back to prehistoric examples thought to have had religious or magical significance. The earliest findings are clay and stone figurines of the Jōmon period (ca 10,000 BC - ca 300 BC). Dolls served many functions in premodern times. Effigies were used as scapegoats to remove defilement, absorb malevolent influences, or prevent disease. An ancient folk belief held that dolls or effigies possessed souls of their own, a theme explored in puppet theater. During the Edo period (1600-1868), dollmaking flourished. In a custom that continues today, dolls were drawn through the streets atop tall, two-wheeled carts during festivals. The Doll Festival, celebrated by young girls on the third day of the third month, included a formalized display of dolls as the focal point of individual household festivities. By 1936, dollmaking had achieved the status of an officially recognized art. Since 1955 five doll masters have been designated Living National Treasures. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)
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