Super Dollfie: A Glimpse into Japan’s World of Ball and Joint Dolls

I stood before a polished glass display case looking into the vacuous eyes of a doll. Her hair was a fine shade of burgundy, brushed with care to ensure that it fell over her shoulders. This was a Ball and Joint doll (BJD); an object of hobby and obsession for many. Within most of the main display cases were dolls dressed as popular anime characters from Rozen Maiden and Shining Hearts. The Volks stores often form dolls based on anime characters, thus forming a tangible link to a fictitious world.

A quick scan throughout the store reveals the high cost of keeping such a doll and is therefore not surprising as to the amount of security cameras placed throughout the store. Every item available to purchase was safely protected behind the clear glass display cases that riddled the store. This Volks store has brands ranging from Super Dollfie (adult-like) to Mini Super Dollfie (child-like). In a very lovely kind of way, the dolls are like a piece of customizable art; one purchases the basic body and personalizes it according to one’s tastes. There is no denying the skill that obviously goes into creating such dolls, and the beauty of each sculptured face. I found myself drawn to how their hair was styled so delicately; a few loose locks fell in curls down their backs or were held tight with flowered pins. I dared not touch any part of those dolls that stood outside of a display case, though I found it tempting to do so.

I stepped through the silent store, surveying cases of dismembered polyurethane body parts and multi-colored wigs that sat on white Styrofoam heads. I passed a man who had been staring at a set of oversized doll breasts for some time and touched three fingers to my lips to keep from smiling at his lasciviousness, though he tried his best to feign disinterest as I walked by. I must admit that it was surreal to see buxom dolls posed in a suggestive manner placed next to ones that mimic pre-pubescent girls or toddlers. Such dolls are, of course, marketed towards adults. Yet it is not only the mature atmosphere of some dolls, but also the expensive cost of the standard doll and its accessories. A standard doll, by the way, includes only the basic body of the doll without hair or clothes. Given that a basic doll can cost from 300 to 1200 dollars, and anywhere else in between, it is not a hobby for the frugal.

In many of the official stores, there is an area where you can order a doll from their “Full Choice System”. This area was at the back of the store where a customer sat at a glass counter–beneath which lie dozens of eyeballs of every shade–and conferred with an employee over what they would like.

As they spoke amongst themselves, the employee pulled open a drawer to show a pair of eyes to the customer to note how smooth and well-crafted the shade of silver was. I turned to a row of thick books whose pages revealed skin colors, hair colors, hands, feet, different styles of faces and entire wardrobes that one could buy for their dolls. Everything is taken care of, even the length and color of the eyelashes. It is a fantasy that allows anyone the ability to create their ideal poppet.

June 10, 2011