Dolls in Wonderland – Osaka

Last weekend marked the first in what appears to be a promising new style of doll event entitled “Dolls in Wonderland.” Unlike other events which prominently feature dealers and provide little if any space for photos and creative play, Dolls in Wonderland, as the title suggests, aims to create a more interactive experience for both dolls and doll owners. Organized by used otaku-related goods retailer Mandarake, the special one day event showcased a small circle of independent dealers, offering a wide variety of handmade goods while making photo opportunities with dolls the focal point of the festivities.

Both dealers and attendees alike indulged in photo sessions throughout the day, as five different styles of dynamic photo spaces allowed for a variety of shots. In addition, props such as doll-sized couches and musical instruments were available for free use to aid in the creation of photo scenarios. As the Osaka Mandarake has a floor that specializes in costume rental, patrons were also encouraged to change in the rooms provided and take photos with their dolls. Available costumes ranged from anime to elegant gothic lolita fashion, and a special white photo backdrop area with extra lighting was set up for patrons to use freely.

Indeed, “free” seemed to be the key word for many attendants. “We don’t go to many doll events as they can cost a lot of money, or are far away,” said one participant. “But, we really wanted to do something for our dolls – they can’t go out so often.”

Like anything else, dolls can quickly become an expensive hobby, with basic bodies alone costing 30-70 thousand yen. Clothes, shoes, and other accessories can cost as much if not more than their life sized equivalents. The opportunity to enjoy a free event together with their dolls coaxed many visitors to indulge both themselves and their dolls, quite a few of them for the first time.

Indeed, many of the dealers as well were first timers, which added to the friendly ambiance. Most people came to know of the event through the Mandarake homepage. In the words of one attendee, “I just happened to look at the site and there it was – what a happy coincidence!”

However, despite the small number of dealers, there were quite a variety of items available. Dresses, clothes, knit stuffed animals, custom made eyes, and custom made optional parts were some of the highlights. Perhaps due to the proximity to Kyoto, many beautiful Japanese inspired items were also available, including handmade kimono, zori, and parasols.

Inquiring about the inspiration of one kimono dealer, who also offered a wide variety of hand painted Japanese style shoes, she replied “I make this sort of thing because I’m Japanese, but, as you know, we don’t get to dress this way very often. I don’t have many opportunities to really enjoy wearing kimono, but I have her (my doll) to enjoy it for me. Just seeing it everyday makes me happy.”

Another kimono dealer offered not only hand sewn kimono, but also real obi as opposed to the velcro type. Even many aficionados prefer velcro, as tying anything around a doll who refuses to sit still can be a trying experience, potentially ruining the position of the kimono. However, with seemingly magic hands, she tied again and again to demonstrate various obi styles. When inquiring about the patience in which her doll endured all this, she lifted the doll’s kimono skirt to reveal her legs bound together and severely out of socket; though they looked fine covered.

Mandarake also had a couple tables and a display case, selling the various doll items that had collected through customer buybacks. Including doll magazines, Volks brand clothes, and whole dolls, many were in mint or near mint condition. As an otaku themed recycle shop, Mandarake specializes in used manga, doujinshi, figures, animation cells, and related second hand goods, though the influx in doll related merchandise is recent. A staff member costumed as Suigintou, a character in anime Rozen Maiden (about dolls that come to life), manned the station.

Though this was only the first Dolls in Wonderland event, it was considered a big success. According to event supervisor Mr. Hara, the day had been busier than expected , and they were very happy with the turnout. “The next Osaka event, which is scheduled for January 31 of next year, will be for dolls of all types and not just ball joint dolls. We hope in time that more people gain interest in this type of event, and that it can grow even larger… but, we’ll have to find the room for it first.”

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