Curios: Antique Wind-up Karakuri Tea Carrying Doll

Edo Karakuri Mechanical Tea Carrying Doll offered by the Japanese Antiques Trading Center.

Hokkaido doll maker Chunimitsu Karakuri crafted this antique wind-up, walking Edo Karakuri doll to bring your daily tea. Karakuri are mechanical wood and paper dolls that date to the 17th century and are said to have inspired the Japanese fascination with robots. This exquisitely crafted and costumed Zashiki style doll stands 15.5 inches (39cm) tall. The mechanics are in working condition. The doll starts moving forward when a cup of tea is placed on the plate in its hands, moving its feet as if walking, and then bows its head after traveling a fixed distance. This signals that the tea is ready for drinking. The action pauses when the cup is removed. When it is replaced, the robot raises its head, turns around and returns to where it came from. These were originally powered by a wound spring made of whalebone. Actions are controlled by a set of cams and levers. It comes in a 19 -inch (48cm) wooden box with tea ceremony bowl. Exact date of manufacture is unknown, but it was prior to 1940 and comes with documentation from Mr. Haruhisa Hanamichi, a former owner who authenticated the work.

EBay: Item 202129025880


The inner workings of a tea-serving karakuri doll are pictured at right. The mechanism is from a 19th century collection of antique automatons on display at the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo, Japan.

About Dan Bolton

Dan Bolton

Dan is an editor and publisher and leading beverage retail consultant. He is a frequent speaker at industry seminars and conferences. He currently manages STiR coffee and tea magazine and edits the weekly World Tea News.

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