The colorful dolls that decorated Hanagaza (a hat adorned with flowers) of Den-gaku Hoshi (a performer of ancient ritual music and dancing) or Shimadai (an ornament on a stand representing the Isle of Eternal Youth) at Kasuga Wakamiya Festival, which started in late Heian period, are the first forms of Nara Dolls.
Afterwards, doll making developed as accessories to ceremonies of Kasuga and other shrines. It made rapid progress in the Azuchi-Momoyama period. During this time such rulers as Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu received gifts of dolls from various parts of the country. And "Tamon-in Nikki," or the diary by Tamon-in, says the foremost one from Nara was the Nara doll used for Noh performance and that it decorated wine tables, which were also beautifully colored. This was the time when "Sarugaku Noh," which originated in Sangaku, the oldest form of performing art of Chinese origin, established itself as Nohgaku. Accordingly, Nara dolls, which were for the most part Noh dolls, took their original form.
Around the mid-Edo period, Okano Shoju, whose family had been of doll manipulators for 13 generations, gained Nara dolls fame. And from late Edo through Meiji, Morikawa Toen, who was also a kyogen performer, enhanced the quality of Nara dolls to the level of an art.
Since around this time, Nara dolls have been called "Ittobori" (one cutter carving) and have been used for Kyogen like "Takasago," Bugaku like "Ranryo-oh," animals of Junishi (Oriental Zodiac), but currently, Hina dolls are quite popular as well. Nara dolls' charm lies in the mysterious harmony of their simple figure and their extreme but meticulous colors. Lately original artists of Nara dolls have appeared.