Antique Japanese battle-horse dolls Hyun (top photo) and Haku (above right) are from the SPA-KUN collection.
An affiliate of VCMEC, SPA-KUN--the Society for the Preservation and Appreciation of Kazari-Uma Ningyo--is devoted to antique Japanese battle-horse dolls (kazari-uma ningyo in Japanese) and learning more about their time-shrouded history.
Kazari-uma ningyo are a kind of musha ningyo, or Boy's Day doll. As Sparky C. of SPA-KUN wrote in "The Horse of the Rising Sun":
"In a tradition dating back to the 16th century, the Kazari-uma is part of the array of warrior dolls and tot-sized battle gear displayed in the homes of Japanese boys every May 5 (which until 1948 was called Tango no Sekku, or Boy’s Day; it’s now the holiday Kodomo no Hi, or Children’s Day).
"Ranging from Little Bit size to about 18 inches at the ear tips (in general, the bigger the horse, the older it is), most Kazari-uma are white and made of touso (a wood-based composition material) or paper mache, covered with either keuesaiku pasted-on silk-fiber hairs or chirimen cloth, and given glass or crystal eyes and a rooted hair mane and tail. They’re then tacked with lacquered wood, brocade and fringe, and are sometimes graced with rider dolls.
"With decreasing living space an increasing issue, though, the Kazari-uma has unfortunately become a luxury option for Japanese families today—and antique Kazari-uma that were once heirlooms now find themselves in secondhand shops and online auctions.
"There unfortunately doesn’t seem to be a book or online resource for identifying Kazari-uma. Up through about the first half of the 20th century, Kazari-uma came in wooden boxes that sometimes had the maker’s label pasted inside or had the date the horse was presented to his boy inked on the lid. That’s been helpful in linking box-less horses to possible creators or making a rough guess at the era a horse hails from, but so much about them is still a mystery! I keep hoping the next horse will fill in clues about some of the others."
We're honored for the opportunity to host the SPA-KUN antique Japanese battle-horse doll collection--quite possibly the largest outside Japan--when the VCMEC Hobby House & Museum opens.