Conservation through investigation: Uncovering the story of a Japanese ceremonial doll

Lara Kaplan


This paper will discuss the research and analysis carried out as part of a student project on a 19th-century Japanese ceremonial doll from the collection of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. The doll is a seated female figure dressed in a Heian period style, multi-layered kimono. This doll was an ideal student project; its composite nature offered the opportunity to experience treating several different types of materials, combining textile, object, and paper conservation practices. More importantly though, this doll had a story to tell about the culture it came from. The value of conserving this doll was in preserving and sharing this story. To achieve this purpose, an understanding of the doll’s manufacture, history, and cultural context was necessary.

Japanese ceremonial dolls, or hina dolls, play a large role in the Japanese Girl’s Day holiday (hina matsuri). During this holiday, which occurs on the third day of the third lunar month, prayers are offered toward the happiness and future prospects of young girls. As part of the celebration, the dolls are displayed on raised platforms and are given various offerings. The two main dolls in the display are figures representing an emperor and empress. In more elaborate displays, a retinue of attendants, musicians, and other court figures, complete with miniature furniture and other accessories may accompany the pair.

The file that contained information on the University of Pennsylvania hina doll was, at first, very slim. A combination of several research perspectives was necessary to bring the doll’s story to life. Library and on-line research provided an introduction to hina dolls, visits to museums with hina dolls in their collections allowed for further study and comparisons, and a comprehensive analytical study on the doll shed light on construction details. This paper will outline the research process and conservation treatment that helped uncover and preserve the story of this object.

2002 | Miami | Volume 9