In the mid-20th century, American toy maker Mattel was a relatively new company, having been founded in 1945 - the same year WWII ended. At the end of the following decade, in 1959, Mattel released Barbie. Interestingly, the idea for the doll was conceived by Ruth Handler, the wife of Mattel's cofounder Elliot Handler. I'm not sure if she received a big check for her contribution, but she did later lead the company as its president. And she named the doll after her daughter Barbara.
So, Barbie was manufactured in Japan from 1959-1972 as a multi-part sofubi toy. The quality was exceptional. Here are pics of a couple of the early Barbie and Ken dolls:
|With this design, you can see how Mattel tried to appeal to the Japanese market by outfitting Barbie in a traditional kimono.|
Here are a couple of looks at some Licca-chan dolls. These particular figures are not too old, but they give a nice idea about the dolls and make a good cross-reference alongside Barbie:
click here to read her profile on Takara Tomy's site), not a teenager or adult. An interesting part of her backstory is Licca-chan's mother is Japanese, while her father is French, making her biracial.
Over the decades, Licca-chan became an iconic figure in her own right. Besides massive sales, the doll has inspired an anime series,video game, etc.
Licca-chan does have something very important in common with Barbie. Just as Barbie was created by a visionary woman, so was Licca-chan. The iconic doll was thought up by manga artist Miyako Maki, the wife of anime + manga legend Leiji Matusumoto (Space Battleship Yamato, Captain Harlock, etc.)
It's a shame that when we think of properties like Barbie and Licca-chan, we tend to primarily associate them with the companies that manufactured them. Maybe more thought should be spared for the creative visionaries behind the iconic toys.
By the way, I snapped all the above shots at a small shop in Kobe during my most recent trip there.
I'm certainly no expert on the history of dolls, but I do find the interplay of Japanese and American toy culture and manufacturing to be very compelling, Plus, I've been wanting to dig into the history of sofubi toys more. And, Takara is one of my favorite toy companies. How can you not love the company that brought us (among many amazing toys) the wind-up R2-D2 and the Microman and Diaclone toy lines - which made Transformers possible?