Dolls are seen all over the world, and some have been thought to possess magical power to protect children from disasters and diseases. In Japan, there are a lot of types of dolls have been produced and accepted as friends and guards for children.
The origin of Kyo Ningyo is also such magical dolls, like ones called Amagatsu or Houko in ancient era. They were (probably are) thought to sacrifice themselves to protect children when something bad occurs. But soon later in Heian period (794-1185), the magic dolls became play dolls for celebrities which became the origin of Hina dolls, and Kyo Ningyo style was finally established in Edo period (1603-1867), when other dolls such as Gosyo Ningyo, Isho Ningyo, and Ichimatsu Ningyo were created.
In Edo period, mainstreams moved to Edo, current Tokyo, but Kyo Ningyo remain in Kyoto. It was a good thing because there were still numerous good artisans for Buddhism goods, textile, and lacquer wares. Such artisans are necessary for creation of Kyo Ningyo.
Production is still kept in the way it used to be. Each step and parts has its own special craftsmen, like head, hair, limbs, and clothes, so that very high quality is achieved. Those specialists has kept their skills and techniques by handing down them from the father to only one of his sons.
The expression also keeps the goody of the old days, showing the historically reasonable ways of clothes, hair styles, and goods. Some are decorated by gold or silver thread (called “Kinran”) and others have meaningful motives to express traditional design.
Modern Kyo Ningyo still are produced in this way, and the types are varied in Hina dolls and Satsuki dolls (for girls day and boys day), Ukiyo dolls (express people’s lives), and Gosyo and Ichimatsu dolls (dolls of babies and small girls). Kyo Ningyo was designated as Traditional Craft by METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) in 1986.