I’m a doll collector and Japan is a very special country in that aspect. A great variety of dolls are produced in Japan and each type has deep traditions. Every region produces its own special type like ceramic dolls of Hakata, wooden Kokeshi dolls of Miyagi Prefecture, Gosho and Maiko dolls of Kyoto and etc. The difference from other countries is that most of Japanese dolls are not playthings, but decorations for display.
When I learned about Japanese dolls via different publications, I was sure I could find dolls anywhere in Japan. But, when I visited Japan for the first time, I found that it wasn't so. I had to look for them and to learn more! Souvenir shops mostly carry souvenir dolls, but not the traditional type or older dolls that are more valuable for collectors.
I found some really good older dolls in antique shops in small towns like Toro (near Omiya) and Nikko. For traditional Kokeshi dolls, I travelled to Shiroishi-Zao. There you can find great choice of Kokeshi dolls from local artists, each piece with the artist's signature on the bottom, and the prices are very reasonable. Besides, you can visit artists' workshops and watch the process of making a Kokeshi doll.
Oshie technic, flat dolls made of cardboard covered with old kimono fabrics, used to be a very popular craft in the past, but now it's rare. You can still find very good samples in the ‘Belami Doll Shop’ of Matsumoto (3-7-23, Chuo). The Mimura Family has been running that studio shop since the 1950's. They also produce traditional paper dolls like Anesama and Tanabata. Also, you can visit some flea markets and small shops in Kawagoe. That is where I found really good Ichimatsu dolls.
What I find remarkable is even if you buy a souvenir doll in Japan, it's sure Japanese and not "Made in China"! The exception is anime figurines made of plastic. They represent anime characters, but mostly are produced in China or Korea. A great variety of anime characters could be found in Akihabara shops. I recommend buyers to search in the private section for more reasonable prices.
The main materials of Japanese dolls are: wood, paper, ceramics, clay, composition material (the mixture of clay and wood dust) and silk.