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Does Russian matrioshka have Japanese roots?
"What a nonsense!" – you may think. After all, everyone knows that matrioshka is almost a symbol of Russia and its main souvenir! These days, it's hard to imagine a trip to Russia without buying a wooden painted doll. However, the story of its appearance is covered with myths and legends, which we attempt to briefly describe over here. For now, there is no exact information about where it came from and what served as its prototype, but still most legends come down to Japan.

What they say in Russia

The very first appearance of the doll dates back to the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. By the way, the date may well be real. All of the following are pure legends. Allegedly, it was invented by artist Malyutin, and carved by lathe tool Zvezdochkin. The matrioshka’s prototype is “officially” considered to be a Japanese figure of one of the seven deities – wisdom’s and scholarship’s god Fukuruma (aka Fukurokuju). It seems that the figure containes6 other gods, and this old man Fukuruma is the main one above them, therefore it is the largest. Thus Malyutin admired this idea and decided to repeat it, but in a different incarnation, making a female doll and painting it like a peasant girl. In addition, he “issued” various household items to each figure -– a sickle, a loaf, a rooster. As a result, everything looked hardworking and instructive.

According to another version, the doll was “born” in Moscow in the workshop of Mamontov, who was fond of national art. And there, several artists made a wooden drop-down toy (which, by the way, was then in fashion), decorating it in the national style.

Further versions

There is also an opinion that the Japanese doll daruma, which is one of the symbols of the country of the rising sun (even the New Year ritual is associated with it), is the prototype of the matrioshka. This is a roly-poly doll that embodies the god Bodhidharma, who is “responsible” for the happiness in the house. According to an ancient legend, after almost 9 years of meditation, this god completely atrophied his limbs, so the doll has no arms and legs. It is made using papier-mâché technique, or it can be carved from a piece of wood and painted manually.

Another possible “sample” for the matrioshka is the Japanese wooden doll Kokeshi. It consists of a cylindrical body and a head attached to it. All parts are produced using a lathe. Sometimes such doll is made from a single piece of wood. Its feature is also the absence of arms and legs.

The only one thing is certain and there is no doubt, the origin of the name of the doll – matrioshka. The doll is called by the female ancient Russian name Matrona (which is translated from Latin as “noble woman”), which is also included in the Orthodox Church calendar.

Despite obvious foreign origin, we still love this toy, and always associate it with Russia and its original culture.

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