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Okiku doll

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Okiku doll illustration by Shohei Otomo

The legendary Okiku doll, named after the girl who long ago used to play with it, is a 40-centimeter (16-in) tall kimono-clad figure with beady black eyes — and hair that grows.

Story

It is said that the doll was originally purchased in 1918 by a 17-year-old boy named Eikichi Suzuki while visiting Sapporo for a marine exhibition. He bought the doll on Tanuki-koji — Sapporo’s famous shopping street — as a souvenir for his 2-year-old sister, Okiku. The young girl loved the doll and played with it every day, but the following year, she died suddenly of a cold. The family placed the doll in the household altar and prayed to it every day in memory of Okiku.

Some time later, they noticed the hair had started to grow. This was seen as a sign that the girl’s restless spirit had taken refuge in the doll.

Okiku doll at Mannenji temple

In 1938, the Suzuki family moved to Sakhalin, and they placed the doll in the care of Mannenji temple in the town of Iwamizawa (Hokkaido prefecture), where it has remained ever since.

Powers

According to the temple, the traditional doll initially had short cropped hair, but over time it has grown to about 25 centimeters (10 in) long, down to the doll’s knees. Although the hair is periodically trimmed, it reportedly keeps growing back.

Nobody has ever been able to fully explain why the doll’s hair continues to grow. However, one scientific examination of the doll supposedly concluded that the hair is indeed that of a young child.