This Okagura Ningyo, or "Mask-Dance Doll," is a small plaster actor doll with a set of six masks. "Okagura" refers to a traditional Japanese Shinto dance. The set, likely made by the former company Shirokiya, comes in a cardboard box. The front of the lid features an image of the actor in blue, green, and orange on a yellow road against a pale green background with a white tree and the words "Okagura Ningyo" (in Japanese). The interior of the lid has a paper label with descriptions of each of the six masks.
The doll comes with a small wooden stand, painted bright blue. The doll is dressed in a bright multi-colored costume, including copper and black geometeric hakama pants (a type of traditional Japanese pants that are tied at the waist and worn over a kimono. They were originally worn only by men, but today can be worn by people of either sex). The six masks, each of which has a cloth covering to help secure the mask to the doll's head, include:
1. Hyottoko: a figure from Japanese folklore, with unclear origins. In many regions he is considered the god of fire (his name derives from "hi"-fire and "otoko"-man). Some regions have alternative conceptions of Hyottoko: in Iwate Prefecture, for example, the character is based on a boy named Hyoutokusu who had a bizarre face and could create gold out of his belly button. When someone in one's household passed away, the relatives would put the mask of this boy at the top of the fireplace to bring good fortune to the house. Hyottoko is characterized by mismatched eyes and a somewhat lopsided face, and he is often wearing a white scarf with blue polka dots. Hyottoko's female counterpart is Otafuku/Okame (the plain or homely woman); both are somewhat comical figures.
2. Okame: a figure from Japanese folklore also known as Uzume or Otafuku, the "homely woman." Okame is considered to be the goddess of mirth and is frequently seen in Japanese art with her characteristic full cheeks and merry eyes. It is believed that Okame masks represent what was once an idealized form of feminine beauty.
3. A kitsune (fox): intelligent tricksters and shapeshifters. Many folktales speak of kitsune transforming into humans in order to become guardians, friends, lovers, and wives—though they do not always have good intentions. Kitsune have also become closely associated with Inari, one of the Shinto kami or gods; foxes serve as Inari's messengers. The number of tails a kitsune has (up to nine) indicates its degree of wisdom and power.
4. An oni: a kind of yokai (supernatural creature) from Japanese folklore, is considered to be a creature similar to demons, ogres, and trolls. Oni are very often represented in visual art, literature, theater, and popular culture in Japan. Oni may take varying forms, but fairly consistently are large and grotesque creatures with claws and horns. They have human-like bodies but are often red or blue and may have extra eyes or fingers. They are usually shown wearing loincloths and carrying clubs (their weapon of choice). Oni are known for being exceptionally strong.
5. A tengu: a type of supernatural creature from Japanese folklore that often appears in works of art, theater, and literature. They are one of the best known yokai (monster/ghosts) and are sometimes worshipped as Shinto kami (sacred spirits or gods). The name derives from a dog-like Chinese demon ("tiangou"), but in Japan the tengu were originally thought to take the forms of birds of prey. As a result, they are traditionally depicted with both human- and bird-like characteristics. Though tengu were historically pictured with beaks, another version of the tengu gradually emerged as well, known as the "yamabushi tengu." Yamabushi are mountain hermits, believed to have supernatural powers. The tengu named after these figures have unnaturally long noses, rather than beaks, and distinctive small black caps.
6. A saru (monkey): a supporting role in Kagura dance that may have been created in the likeness of Sarutahiko, the god of travel.