Many of these toys were traditionally made for children using readily available materials with the hope that the children would grow up strong and healthy. Toys are still made in Kumamoto using color schemes traditionally found in the area. There are some famous toys that were originally used as lucky talismans.
When Kumamoto Castle was constructed 400 years ago, there was a foot soldier was quite good at making people laugh. He was called “Odoke no Kinta,” meaning “Funny Kinta.” Wind-up dolls were made based on this soldier in the 19th century, and were later called “Obake no Kinta,” meaning “Spooky Kinta.” Obake no Kinta toys have a bright red face and a string attached which when pulled causes the doll’s eyes roll back and its long tongue to loll out.
Konoha-zaru, or Konoha monkeys, are simple toys made of unglazed clay in the Konoha area of Gyokuto Town. They are formed without a mold by roughly shaping the clay with one’s hands. It is said that in 723, a refugee from the capital made items to be offered at a shrine using the red clay found at Mt. Konoha after he received a divine message in his dreams. According to legend, the leftover clay he threw away transfigured itself into monkeys. Konoha-zaru are nowadays used as charms to protect against illness and calamities as well as wish for the prosperity of one’s family.
Hikoichi koma, or Hikoichi spinning tops, were designed based on the folklore, “Hikoichi’s Witty Story.” In this story, a man named Hikoichi defeats a naughty raccoon dog using only his wits. The toy is actually an ornament shaped like the raccoon dog which can be taken apart to produce four spinning tops from the animal’s head, body, bamboo hat, and stage plus tail.
More than 800 years ago, Heike soldiers settled in the remote regions of Hitoyoshi after being defeated in battle in the Kuma area. It is said that they began crafting kijiuma, hanatebako, and hagoita in response to feelings of homesickness for their former lives in Kyoto. These toys are made from the wood of various trees including paulownia, Japanese angelica, wisteria, and oak. They are given a rustic design with red, yellow, and green paint.
Okinjo and Itazumo dolls are toys from the Yatsushiro area. Okinjo dolls are made by painting paulownia wood. These dolls are used by young girls to play dress up or play house. Itazumo dolls were originally made in connection with sumo wrestlers from Hinagu in Yatsushiro City.
Higomari is an ornamental ball with a core made from rice hulls and wrapped in cotton string colored with natural vegetable dyes to produce a design. Higomari have been made since around 1965 and were based on the ball-shaped ornament “temari,” which have been produced in various regions across Japan since the Edo Period.