A typical example of Sendai Hariko, the “Matsukawa Daruma"
Meet the new souvenir of Sendai, "Kubifuri Hariko"
The makings of a Kubifuri Hariko
The local zodiac belief in Sendai, the "Ketaigami"

A hariko is a local paper toy, made from stacking papers on a mold to create multiple layers, and then drying and decorating them with paints.
It has long been a widely familiar item among people all around Japan. It was used as a lucky charm, an amulet for purification, or an ornament to celebrate the healthy growth of a child.
The Sendai Hariko are a craft specific to Sendai. Although Matsukawa Daruma from Sendai is currently famous (for its long history since the feudal period), a certain workshop is working on another craft.. This workshop is known for its production of cute bobbleheads -- Kubifuri-hariko -- and is trying to make its Zodiac-themed Hariko into Sendai’s new souvenir product.

A typical example of Sendai Hariko, the “Matsukawa Daruma”

When speaking of "Hariko", many people will imagine the "Daruma(Dharma)" as a popular example.
In general, most Darumas are characterized by their red color, whereas the "Matsukawa Daruma" of Sendai are dressed in distinctive outfits, with vivid blue  borders around their faces and Takarabune (treasure ship) and gods of fortune painted on their bodies.
It is said to have gained popularity during the Tenpo era(1830 - 1844), where a retainer of the Date domain known as Matsukawa Toyonoshin first produced it as a source of inspiration and comfort for the common people back then.

The Matsukawa Daruma

The impressive vivid blue of a Matsukawa Daruma.
Through becoming an apprentice with Matsukawa Toyonoshin, the technology and wooden molds of that time were inherited by the first head of the "Hongo Darumaya", where it has been passed down over several generation up until today.
The scenery of the Matsukawa Daruma lining up along the shrine path during the New Year's visit, is very familiar to the people of Sendai.

Masamune Date and his craftworks

Originally, many of the traditional crafts of Miyagi prefecture were created and developed in Sendai, under the influence of the Sendai feudal lord, Masamune Date.

A statue of Masamune Date

The Sendai feudal lord, Masamune Date
Masamune Date, the founder and the feudal lord of Sendai who excelled in both academic and martial arts, is known for successfully implementing a new culture based on the traditional culture cultivated by the Date family.The skills of the Date clan craftsmen eventually trickled down into the common peoples of the castle towns, and can still be seen today in Sendai’s traditional crafts.
Out of them, it is said that the Sendai Hariko was extremely popular as lucky charm pieceworks made by the Date clan, used by ordinary people in their daily lives.

Meet “Kubifuri Hariko” the new souvenir of Sendai

There's a workshop known for producing small bobblehead Hariko of the twelve zodiac signs.
The adorable looks of it rocking its head on the palm of your hands, allowed this Hariko to win a prize at the New Design Craftwork Exhibition held in Sendai city, and it has now become a popular souvenir of Sendai, attracting fans from both in and out of Miyagi prefecture.

The outer looks of the workshop

Takahashi Hashime Kobo
The Kubifuri Hariko is made in the workshop of "Takahashi Hashime Kobo", which at first may appear to you as an ordinary house standing in a residential area in Aoba-ku, Sendai. The wooden signboard in front of the door is the only indication of the workshop.

A couple was working at the work table when we entered, and the Kubifuri Hariko were swaying their necks back and forth as if to welcome us.
The working table was overcrowded with Harikos of "Ne(rat)". This was the zodiac sign of the next year, and hordes of them were waiting to be painted.
The surrounding Harikos also provided a warm feeling to spread throughout the room.

The Hariko lined up on the shelf

A collection of Kubifuri Hariko will welcome you upon entering
The "Kubifuri Hariko of the 12 Zodiac Signs" was invented and produced to become a new souvenir representing Sendai, by Mr. Hashime Takahashi the first in 1960.

His first finished original craft was the "Tawara Ushi", which became very popular because the zodiac of the following year was the ox.
Since then, he started to put in effort to cover all twelve zodiac signs with Hariko, taking him more than 12 years to complete the entire line-up because he struggled to make the head of these various shaped animals swing properly.
Currently, the workshop runs under the same name since its establishment, with Mr. Hashime's eldest son Toshimichi and his wife Kyoko being mainly in charge of the production.

Mr. Takahashi during work

Mr. Toshimichi Takahashi working on a Hariko

His wife, Mrs. Kyoko

Mr. Takahashi’s wife, Mrs. Kyoko
The zodiac Hariko’s most popular features are their cute size, colors, and of course, swinging heads.

In order to make the most out of the features of handmade Washi papers, all procedures are completed solely by hand. Each paper is carefully dyed, teared into pieces and stacked to create layers, and then painted.
Since various processes are involved and the required time for completing a craft changes from time to time, even if we assume that 50 Kubifuri Hariko can be created every day, the annual production is only about 10,000 every year.
In addition to this, they also have to work on custom-order requests as well, resulting in the couple's worries of not being able to take holidays at all.

The Hariko before being decoration

The rats being carefully decorated with paint
Since the zodiac sign of the current year is the twelfth one, the zodiac cycle will reset to start its cycle again from the first, which is the rat.
Heading to this upcoming reset, a special "White Rat" Hariko is planned to be sold for a limited amount of 500, alongside the regularly sold rats.

The makings of a Kubifuri Hariko

The palm-sized Kubifuro Hariko of the Takahashi Hashime Kobo are all hand-made in the workshop, but how exactly are these adorable bobbleheads made?
To further deepen our knowledge, we've asked about the rough overview of its making process.

■Making the Ground Paper
Papers are pasted to molds formed in the shape of a zodiacs, and then left for a while to dry.
Once completely dried, a cut is made on the backside of the paper, and the mold is removed. This cut will serve as a reference mark, for the following step where layers of paper are stacked onto the base.
*This procedure is currently the only outsourced process.

"Bari", meaning burr in English, refers to the unevenness and bumps created during the groundwork process, and the following deburring procedure is called "Bari-tori".
A grinder is used here to smoothen the seams and remove these burrs.

The ground paper before deburring

The ground paper before deburring

Once the base paper is smooth enough, tiny pieces of torn handmade Washi paper are carefully pasted with glue and dried.
"With the pieces being so small, you won’t be able to get away with anything in this process. Furthermore, the colors of the Washi paper are also uneven and not always the same, because it is hand-made as well." says Mr. Toshimichi.

A Hariko of the boar before assembled

The Hariko after being carefully coated with Washi paper

■Assembling the Hariko
The weight is smaller than your fingertip

The weight is smaller than your fingertip
Nextly, the head and the torso will be attached.
A thread is passed through the head, which is then balanced by attaching clay soil as weights, in order for it to rocks its head smoothly and stabley.

Attaching the head with weights inside

Attaching the weighted head of the boar

Attaching the head of the rat

The head of the limited White Rat will also be attached
Among the twelve zodiac signs, the "Tatsu(dragon)", the "Mi(snake)", and the "Tori(cock)" is said to be especially difficult to adjust, since the structure of the head movement largely differs from the others.

A Kubifuri Hariko of the dragon

A Kubifuri Hariko of the Tatsu(dragon). Precise fingertips are required to smoothen and stabilize the movement of the head.

After assembling the remaining parts, it will be decorated with paintings of the animals to finally reach completion.

The painting of the rat

The painting of the rat
The cute and adorable expressions seen on the faces of these Hariko are all drawn one by one with extreme care.
When asking them about their thoughts as a the creator, the couple smiled and told us, "As long as the people holding our craft feels 'Oh, this is so cute.', we are more than satisfied."
The Kubifuri Hariko suits perfectly as a memorable souvenir when choosing the zodiac depending on a person's birth year, or as an annually changing ornament from selecting zodiac signs of the current year.
As for today, you can surely say that the Kubifuri Hariko has grown to become a new local toy of Sendai, which you can't help but to cherish.

The Japanese "Zodiac" culture and the zodiac belief in Sendai, the "Ketaigami"

The "Twelve Zodiac" is a familiar culture for the Japanese people, and this tradition can also be seen in Sendai as well, where gods related to the zodiac are worshiped.
With this being said, why not stop by at shrines associated with the god of your zodiac sign upon visiting Sendai?

The Zodiac was introduced from China

The twelve zodiac refers to the following animals, 子(ne / rat), 丑(ushi / ox), 寅(tora / tiger), 卯(u / hare), 辰(tatsu / dragon),巳(mi / snake),午(uma / horse), 未(hitsuji / sheep), 申(saru / monkey), 酉(tori / cock), 戌(inu / dog)、and 亥(i / boar).

The Kubifuri Hariko of the twelve zodiac signs

The Kubifuri Hariko of the twelve zodiac signs
With each zodiac sign being associated with a specific year, it is mainly used as symbols for New Year's cards and fortune-telling in today's Japan, but it also had meanings related to month, time, and direction in the past.
This concept is said to have been introduced to Japan from China in the middle of the 6th century, since characters such as "子" and "亥" do not originally stand for "rat" and "boar" in Japanese.
The reason why it became the meaning of today is somewhat like the hieroglyphics, where 
letters were associated with animals based on its visual similarities, in order to make it easy to understand, and wide spread the concept to the general public.

The distinctive belief of "Ketaigami" in Sendai

A custom called "Ketaigami" has existed for a long time in Sendai.
It has been widely accepted as a religion since the mid-Edo era, where guardian deities of the twelve zodiac(the guardian god of zodiac signs corresponding with a respective birth year) were worshipped.
There are currently a total of twelve shrines in Sendai each being associated with a specific zodiac, which hasve a long history starting since the construction of the Sendai Castle, where the direction of each zodiac and the location of associated shrines were matched under the purpose of protecting the castle.

The guardian deity of Dainichido

The guardian deity of a monkey at the Dainichido (Aoba-ku, Sendai)

【The Shrines Enshrining the Guardian Deities of the Twelve Zodiacs in Sendai】 
■子 (Ne / Rat):[Senjyu Kannon] Zennyuin Kannondo (1-1-67 Haranomachi, Miyagino-ku, Sendai)
■牛・寅(Ushi / Ox and Tora / Tiger): [Kokuzo Bosatsu] Kokuzodo Daimanji (4-4-1 Mukaiyama, Taihaku-ku, Sendai)
■卯(U / Hare):[Monju Bosatsu] Jusouzan Monjudo (6-10-18 Hachiman, Aoba-ku, Sendai)
■辰・巳(Tatsu / Dragon and Mi / Snake):[Fugen Bosatsu] Atago Shrine (4-17-1 Mukaiyama, Taihaku-ku, Sendai)
■午(Uma / Horse):[Seishi Bosatsu] Nijyusanyado (7-11 Kitamemachi, Aoba-ku, Sendai)
■未・申(Hitsuji / Sheep and Saru / Monkey):[Dainichi Nyorai] Dainichido (1-12-40 Ichibancho, Aoba-ku, Sendai)
■酉(Tori / Cock):[Fudo Myoo] Mitakisan Fudoin (2-5-7 Chuo, Aoba-ku, Sendai)
■戌・亥(Inu / Dog and I / Boar): [Amida Nyorai] Osaki Hachimangu (4-6 Hachiman, Aoba-ku, Sendai)

”Daimanji”, the shrine where all twelve zodiacs are enshrined in one spot

Jyunishi Hakkakudo

Jyunishi Hakkakudo(Inside the shrine precinct of Daimanji)
For people planning a visit with families or lovers with different zodiac signs, our recommendation will be "Daimanji" which is located in Mukaiyama, Aoba-ku.
This is because Daimanji is known not only for enshrining "Kokuzo Bosatsu" which is the deity of both the Ushi(Ox) and the Tora(Tiger), but it also has the "Jyunishi Hakkakudo" standing inside the shrine precinct, where eight guardian deities accommodated with all twelve zodiacs are enshrined in one place.
It is an optimal spot to visit when traveling with several people, since it can cover all zodiac signs to match any person of any birth year.

The stone statue standing inside the Jyunishi Square

The stone statue standing inside the Jyunishi Square(Inside the shrine precinct of Daimanji)

Try getting a Kubifuri Hariko of your birth year or the current year.

The upcoming zodiac sign of 2020 is the "Rat Year", where the entire cycle of the twelve zodiac resets to start once again from the beginning.
Coincidentally enough, the workshop of the Takahashi Hashime Kobo was also founded in the Rat Year(1960), and this is when they started the production of their first Kubifuri Hariko, the "Tawara Ushi".
In other words, the history of Kubifuri Hariko as well will reach Kanreki next year, meaning that it will celebrate a memorial 60th birthday and start a new journey to add more to their successful history.
Upon visiting Sendai, why not go and meet these adorable Kubifuri Hariko whilst stopping by at shrines related to the Ketaigami?