Visit Inuyama Karakuri Doll Museum

Amazing Inuyama Castle and Karakuri Art 

Inuyama- illust x01.JPG        I got a chance to visit Inuyama city in Aichi Prefecture lately. The cityInuyama- town x01.JPG is famous to have a national treasure “Inuyama Castle” built in the 16th century, and to retain historical townscape of Edo period, as well as to organize tradition of the old ritual festivals. So I went around seeing these historical sites and visited some memorial heritages and Inuyama- Doll x16museums in the city. Among them, the most impressive facility was the “Doll Pavilion” which exhibited the “Karakuri” dolls. It was showing the superiority of Japanese craftsmanship in doll makings.

It was a short time, but it was quite experience to observe the “Karakuri” exhibition there. Below is an impression of my visit.

 Karakuri Pavilion HP :

 ♣  Inuyama’s Castle, Townscape and Festival

inuyama- Museum x03.JPG    Inuyama- illust x08.JPG    The “Inuyama Castle” is a legendary castle built in 1537 in the Muromachi period. Its castle donjon is the oldest style one among the existing castles in Japan, and designated as a national treasure of Japan. In addition, the old township there is still remaining the original style of the Edo era townscape (same shape of Town Block of castle Inuyama- town x02.JPGtown) as well as the idyllic merchant houses.The Inuyama festival in Inuyama city is also famous across the country because of the magnificent ”Dashi” (shrine float vehicle) procession with theater-like play of the Inuyama- Float x03.JPG“Karakuri” dolls in competing their acrobatic actions on the street.  At present, the campaign of “Revitalization of Historical Town ” is going in the Inuyama city. Under these programs, Cultural Historical Museum of Inuyama, “Festival hall” (Donden Hall”), and other facilities like Doll Pavilion (called “Karakuri Kan”) were prepared to advertise their charms on their castle, old township, and Inuyama festivals and other activities.

 ♣  Legendary figure of Karakuri doll in Inuyama

Inuyama- illust x06    “Karakuri” is mechanical auto-moving mechanic tools which were produced and played from the old time of Japan, in particular, Inuyama- Doll x17.JPG“Karakuri doll” was showing a unique movement like human actions. This is equivalent to Western automata in the old days. In Japan, “Dolls” were perceived as a sort of spiritual “proxies” of human body from the ancient times and treated as the sacred ones. This feature is said to be embodied into the “Karakuri dolls”.  Then, human shape dolls have been used in festivals and others ritual activities for long since ancient Inuyama- Doll x20.JPGtime to now.

In particular, since the Edo period, besides festivals, these Karakuri dolls became popular as a general spectacles and entertainment purposes too.

And when the mechanical movement technology like gears and cams, which was widely used in mechanical watches, was introduced from Western countries in the early Edo period of the 17th century, this mechanism was effectively applied to the device movement of dolls. so as many specialized “Karakuri” craftsmen were born in that period and various human shape dolls was beginning to show the elaborate move became produced in Japan in the unique way.


<History  of Karakuri dolls>

In 1620 (the Genna 6th), the first “Karakuri” of “Benkei’s dolls” (an ancient hero Inuyama- Old doll x01.JPGwarrior) was mounted on the religious float “Yama” vehicle of “Nagoya Toshogu Festival”. Since that time, many festival floats carrying Karakuri dolls became popular and widely spread Inuyama- Old doll x04.JPGaround the Chukyo area (surrounding Nagoya area). Also, in 1662, Takeda Omi, a theater player, at Osaka had got a title name of master of Karakuri in the performance of “Karakuri Theater play” (Takeda Karakuri).

At that time, Tokugawa Muneharu, a lord in the Owari Han (clan), encouraged Inuyama- Old doll x02.JPGentertainment and performing festivals among local people to activate people’s daily life in the Owari Nagoya region. It is said that many craft workers were gathered there and started to produce various “Karakuri dolls” in the area. As a result, the areaInuyama- history x01.JPG became a major spot of Karakuri festivals since then. Tamaya Shobei, the first doll master, was one of them. In such circumstances, Inuyama have developed the unique floats and doll making technology which now are facilitating the present large-scale Oyama festival and unique Karakuri performance.

Refer: (

<Variation of Krakuri Doll>]

Inuyama- Doll x08.JPGInuyama- illust x03.JPG    The Karakuri doll can be roughly divided into three categories, such as (1) “Karakuri for festival float”, (2) “Zashiki Karakuri” and (3) “Shibai Karakuri”. The Karakuri for float (1) is loading dolls on the float vehicles that are played during the procession of festival. (3) Shibai Karakuri is used in playhouse, like Kabuki Theater and so on.          They are applied to Bunraku (Puppet    Inuyama- Doll x06  Inuyama- Doll x07       Inuyama- Doll x05play) and other theater stage later.  Karakuri dolls of (2) “Zashiki” (an in-house performing doll)  (In-house performing doll) and they are applied to Bunraku (Puppet Inuyama- craftsman x08.JPGplay) and other theater stage later.Karakuri dolls of (2) “Zashiki” (an in-are made just for entertainment, or use as pet like goods for Daimyo (great warrior lords) and rich merchants, and the dolls showed particularly elaborate movements. They are known well in the forms like “Tea serving doll”, “Bow shooting doll”, “Letter writing doll” and others.       

(Performance can be seen in the Youtube *

 Inuyama- Doll x24.JPG“Tea serving doll” ( )
Inuyama- Doll x23.JPG“Letter writing doll” ( )

     ♣ Contact point of Karakuri and humanoid robot

The mechanism of “Karakuri” in human style dolls is regarded embody basic Inuyama- craftsman x03.JPGoperational principles of modern mechanical engineering. By an analysis of “Karakuri” expert, “The technical force that created a precision movement of wooden machine doll in the Edo period,Inuyama- Doll x09.JPG have actually made advanced the new manufacturing technology by using “iron” materials instead of wooden materials at the time of the industrial revolution of Meiji period.” (Suzuki Reiji “Karakuri Yume Studio” etc.).

It is also believed this technology background of Karakuri made possible effectively Inuyama- illust x07.JPGintroduce of new machinery technology from Europe in the industrialization process, especially in the Meiji period. The quick development of the watch industry and other precision mechanical Inuyama- craftsman x04.JPGindustries of Japan’s after the Meiji Restoration is said match due to these facts.

In the Nagoya area where the Karakuri making was quite popular, now many manufacturing companies concentrated such as automobiles, industrial robots, etc. It is evaluated that the development of Karakuri technology might have given a positive effects to flourish Inuyama- Doll x26.JPGsuch machinery industries in the area. It’s quite understandable why Japanese are holding so favorable and intimate image to the humanoid robots. It would be based on the familiarity to the “Karakuri dolls” which are often played in the daily life now.

      “Tanaka Hisashige” which was called “Karakuri Kyonemon” at the end of the Edo Inuyama- craftsman x02.JPGperiod is particularly famous in making these elaborate movement dolls and carving aesthetic wood puppets. Tanaka was also a scientific engineer, and invented “Exhaustible oil lamp” (Mujintou), a million years clock (Mannen Jimei Mannenn Dokei), and even built “steam locomotive production” in Saga. He is known to set up a manufacturing firm in the Meiji era “Tanaka Manufacturing” that became the founding basis of the current “Toshiba” company).

♣  Karakuri Museum’s human doll exhibition

        Karakuri Pavilion, an annex of Inuyama Cultural Historical Museum, exhibits inuyama- Museum x02.JPGmany Karakuri dolls and is regularly conducting demons of Karakuri performance in the hall. With visiting this pavilion, you can see the historical roots of Karakuri dolls in detail and also their various forms of performing dolls through explanation given by the staff.Inuyama- Doll x21.JPG

Beside many old Karakuri dolls in the hall in the Edo period, you can see various Karakuris there which are performed in the still being used the floats of Oyama festival, the ” Zashiki Karakuri ” which is showing elaborate movements at the stage, and others. We inuyama- Museum x05.JPGcan’t help admire how many numbers of the different and colorful Karakuri dolls with lively movement were made in the history.

They are quite fertile in content, such as Karakuri dolls based on the stories of old folk tales, noble aristocrats dolls wearing clothes of ancient dynasties, heroic warrior dolls in the medieval time, dolls of peculiar animals, and cute children’s dolls, and other variety of dolls are exhibited there.Inuyama- Doll x11.JPG

Also, the better understanding about structure and mechanisms of these Karakuri clearly, the Pavilion displays the wooden structure, gears, strings, and other parts inside the dolls.

Inuyama- craftsman x01.JPGHowever, the biggest attractive point is that you can actually observe the demonstration of movement of Karakuri doll and their production site by Mr. Tamaya Shobei, who is the ninth generation of the puppet master who continued the craft tradition from the Edo period. This Shobei, currently masterpiece of Karakuri doll, was nominated as a great craftsman of Inuyama- Doll x03.JPGJapan in the field of aesthetic wood manufacturing product. He has also reproduced and exhibited the classic Karakuri dolls in Edo period with fully using the traditional techniques, such as “Tea serving doll”, “Bow shooting doll”, “Letter writing doll” etc. The Pavilion actually highlighted these dolls as the main features of exhibition. There is also the episode that Shobei excellently manufactured a Karakuri of “Tea serving doll” and presented it to the British Museum in London for the special exhibition in 2005.

♣ Remarks after visit

Inuyama- Doll x23The production technique of Karakuri dolls and their craftsman’s traditions are often quoted as a root of the development of Japanese machinery industries and the showcase of excellent craftsmanship of Japan from Meiji era to now. And the modern robot industry was evaluated to be formed under this tradition and technology, particularly pertaining to the humanoid robot.Inuyama- craftsman x05.JPG    Especially, it is pointed out that Tanaka Hisashige who founded Toshiba was known as a “Karakuri doll masterpiece during the Edo period, and Toyoda Sakichi, who is a founder of Toyota, believed that he had applied the Karakuri mechanism for the invention of the first automatic woven loom in Japan. In addition, it is pointed that he was raised in the area of vicinity in Nagoya, Aichi where the Inuyama- illust x05.JPGKarakuri was thriving.
It was a quite experience to visit the national treasure “Inuyama Castle”, the streets of the castle town of Edo period. Particularly the amazingthing is that I could see the “Karakuri in the Pavilion and could know of the diverse features of Karakuri dolls by my own eyes.
Anyway, I was deeply impressed by the significance of “craftsmanship” in Japan which was shown in the Karakuri making techniques. The visit was really enjoyable and educational experience.



  • 「カラクリの基礎知識」
  • 「からくりー伝統・歴史・技術ものづくりを支える」(尾陽木偶師 九代玉屋庄兵衛)
  • 「からくり人形とものづくり文化」
  • からくりフロンティア
  • 「城下町でお遊びーKarakuri-」 (大山氏教育委員会篇)
  • 大山市城下町マップ
  • 大山市文化史料館パンフレット
  • カラクリ展示館パンフレット
  • 「旧磯江家住宅」紹介パンフレット
  • ドンデン館パンフレット
  • 「大山祭りーカラクリ解説集―」


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