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Revival of a popular Okinawa doll made by people with disabilities

Born in the year of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972, a locally handcrafted wooden doll with a cylindrical body is enjoying a rebirth after nearly being left for dead three years ago, reports Asahi Shimbun.

The Ryukyu Miyarabi Kokeshi became a famed souvenir when it went on display at the Okinawa Ocean Expo in 1975. But a large stock of unsold dolls later piled up as fewer tourists visited Okinawa, forcing the Taiki Okinawa support facility for people with disabilities here, which makes the toy, to consider suspending production.

Although there were 10 or so craftsmen working there, the number dropped to two. A turning point came three years ago when a department store in Naha started dealing in the locally made craftwork, leading to increased sales.

The doll drew much attention as “Chiisana Koi no Uta” (Little love song), a film based on a noted song of the same name of the Okinawan rock band Mongol800, opened in theatres in May last year.

In the movie, Ryukyu Miyarabi Kokeshi are featured as a gift available at a shop on a U.S. military base that is sent by U.S. personnel in Okinawa and their families to someone with written messages when they leave the southern island. Before that, annual sales had not topped 400 units but the support centre now receives more orders than its production ceiling of 500, according to facility representatives. Measuring 30 centimetres tall and 5 cm across, the Ryukyu Miyarabi Kokeshi sculpture is made of locally produced pine wood. It is marked by its thin body on which hair and eyes, along with a colourful kimono design, are delicately painted with a brush.

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