Shortly after the U.S. Civil War, a mysterious Japanese doll departed from Japan and made its way to the United States. Believed to have been created some time in the 1840s by a mechanical genius named Hisashige Tanaka, the female doll was clad in an ornate kimono. Driven by an intricate wind-up mechanism, the doll wielded a calligraphy brush to write on a piece of paper mounted on a board in front of it. Rediscovered in the U.S. in 2003, it was subsequently returned to Japan and underwent restoration.
The creator of this amazing doll lived in an era when a feudal Japan made its emergence from two centuries of enforced isolation, to embark on a policy of open diplomacy and rapid industrialization. Son of a tortoise-shell craftsman, Tanaka was born in Kurume City, Chikugo province (presently the southwestern part of Fukuoka Prefecture) in 1799 and began showing signs of genius from an early age. While still only nine years old, Tanaka had created a trick pencil case that no one could open. He studied mathematics and astronomy in Edo (Tokyo), Osaka, and Kyoto. His imagination and dexterity led to a number of amazing inventions, such as the mujinto, a light that was 10 times brighter than a candle.
Sometimes called “The Thomas Edison of Japan,” Tanaka had an ability to produce amazing devices, which earned him the nickname "Karakuri Giemon" a word that does not lend itself well to direct translation but might be rendered in English as "The Gadget Wizard." "Karakuri," meaning a gadget or gimmick, derives from the word karakuru, an archaic verb that originally meant to manipulate objects horizontally or vertically using strings. Now it is generally used to mean the mechanism that drives a machine.