The roots of Suruga Hina Ningyo can be traced back to simple clay dolls known as neri-tenjin. Tenjin is another name for Sugawara Michizane, a Heian period (794-1185) scholar, who was respected as a god of learning. But the craft itself started when a local man called Aono Kasaku gathered around him people skilled in making things in clay and began making dolls. Then tenjin, which were dressed, were made and examples dating back to 1853 still exist today.
By the end of the Edo period in 1868, more elaborately dressed dolls known as ishogi-tenjin were being produced.
The individuality of each doll maker is seen in the choice of color and the pattern of the cloth as well as in the making of the body. However, these idiosyncrasies are even more marked in the arrangement of the postures. This is referred to as the udeori or furitsuke. It is the last process in the making of a doll and so important that even if a hundred dolls were set up in a line, it would still be possible for an expert to discern at a glance which doll was made by which maker. A wide selection of dolls is being made including those for the Hina Matsuri or doll festival. Others include figures from the past as well as a contemporary form of the neri-tenjin doll.
The personality of the artist comes out in the making of the torso, which is the first step in making hina ningyo dolls, and the patterns and colors used in the fabric. Another step that shows the artist's personality even more is the bending of the arms. This is one of the final steps learned when training to make hina ningyo, and even with one hundred dolls lined up, it is said one can identify the artist by looking at the way the arms are bent.
How to make
The costumed doll is made by first tightly wrapping rice straw for the torso, then wrapping wire for the arms and legs with wood wool. Next, these are combined with the body and fitted with clothing, and finally the arms are bent and the doll is complete. Neritenjin dolls are made using toso, which is a mixture of paulownia sawdust and wheat gluten that is pressed into a mold, then left to dry for approximately ten days. Next, the doll is affixed with a cap or hair, then the face is painted on, it is dressed, the smaller props are added, then the platform is made, and it is complete.