Zashiki Karakuri

Zashiki Karakuri is small and designed for domestic use. They were originally articles of luxury for feudal lords during the Edo period.

Zashiki is considered the most technically intricate and precious of all forms of Karakuri. The most famous were produced in the mid to late Edo period with Western clockwork mechanisms, though sand, mercury and even steam power were used. The 'Chahakobi Ningyo', or tea-serving doll is perhaps the most famous, and was the first 'home entertainment' robot used in Japan.

Momotaro DashiPlan from Karakuri ZuiiMomotaro Ningyo

Chahakobi Ningyo (Tea Serving Doll) by TAMAYA Shobei IX, and plan from 'Karakuri Zuii' ('Karakuri - An Illustrated Anthology') published in 1796.

When the host placed a teacup on the tea tray held by the doll, it would move straight to the guest, and when the guest took the tea it would stop and wait. When the guest drank the tea and put the cup back on the tray, it would turn around and go back to the host. Once activated, it moves its dragging foot, and advances nodding its head up and down. In addition, it was also equipped with a mechanism by which the host, having measured by eye the distance to the guest, could set in advance the place where it would turn around. It used a cam and spring rather than a bevel gear to change directions. (SCHDOT 1988, p 61) Traditionally, the spring used in the mechanism was made from the baleen of a whale.

Under the current classification system of the JIRA (Japan Industrial Robot Association), the Chahakobi Ningyo is a fixed sequence robot. (SCHODT 1988, p 57)

The tea-serving doll is not only excellent from a mechanical perspective, but it also displays an intriguingly human essence. Historically, its existence provided entertainment, and functioned as a way of deepening communication between a host and guest.

The Chahakobi Ningyo was featured in the novels of SAIKAKU Ihara, and in the haiku poetry of ISSA Kobayashi in the late Edo period. (SUEMATSU 2001a)

The 'Yumihiki Doji', or archer doll is considered the peak of Edo mechanism arts. It sits on a stand about 30cm high. It picks up an arrow and shoots it at a target, repeating this 4 times. 1 out of 10 times the arrow will miss the target, which is intentional, to create an element of suspense for the audience. (SUEMATSU 2001b)

Archer Puppet

Yumihiki Doji (Archer Doll) by TAMAYA Shobei IX.

The best collection of Zashiki Karakuri today can be seen at the Kyoto Japanese Folk Dolls Museum in Sagano. There are several Temawashi Ningyo which are on display. This type of Zashiki Karakuri was based on music box mechanisms.


Temawashi at the Kyoto Japanese Folk Dolls Museum - Koteki Doshi (left) and Shishimai (right). (KITO 1997, p80, 83)


KITO, H., 1997. Karakuri Ningyo Sekaiten (The World of Karakuri Ningyo). Tokyo: NHK Kinki Media Plan.

SCHODT, F. L., 1988. Inside the Robot Kingdom - Japan, Mechatronics, and Coming Robotopia. Tokyo, New York: Kodansha.

SUEMATSU, Y., 2001a. The Japanese Love of Robots lecture 1, Japan, the Robot Kingdom, Department of Electronic-Mechanical Engineering, Nagoya University.

SUEMATSU, Y., 2001b. Zashiki Karakuri [online]. Department of Electronic-Mechanical Engineering, Nagoya University. Available from: http://www.suelab.nuem.nagoya-u.ac.jp/~suematsu/zasiki/zasiki.html (in Japanese) [Accessed 23 November 2002]



Karakuri Origins

Dashi Karakuri

Butai Karakuri

Zashiki Karakuri

Edo Society

Edo Mechanisms

Karakuri Masters


Robot Perspectives

Karakuri Robots


kirsty @ karakuri . info

Last modified 14 January 2008
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