March 3rd – Hina Matsuri AKA Doll Festival AKA Girl’s Day in Japan
Since Valentine’s Day left the poor shop windows bereft, hina matsuri displays have been appearing. The simplest sets feature representations of the Emperor and Empress in traditional garb, sat side by side on a red floored setting, with various other traditional items, including sake, rice cakes and lanterns. The more elaborate include tiers that stretch from floor to ceiling. Here are some I found in the Isetan department store. Take a good look at the prices, convert them if needs be, then decide if you’d pay over half your monthly salary for the set.
As with the commodification of everything in Japan, the dolls have been hard to miss. Seemingly innocent stickers lurk even inside ropeway compartments. I’ve had to make some of these out of tissue paper and card with the kids at school. (In fact, mine were very popular because I gave them spectacularly emo hair cuts with jagged fringes.) But actually, I’ve found this festival to be very charming, perhaps because it’s purely Japanese in origin.
It was today that the doll-delirium came to a head. When they were thrown into the river.
No, not the super-duper expensive ones. That would be just a little too stupid. Small, light, purpose-built ones were floated in baskets down the river which runs through Shimogamo shrine. This is part of a ceremony where people pray for the health of their children. The day also acts an excuse for parents to dress their daughters up in school uniform or traditional dress and take photos of them with a giant hina set, laid on a stage for the purpose. Needless to say, the kids were very very cute and snot-free.
Our day continued on a very traditional theme as we decided it was time for some plum blossom viewing. Check out the glorious blossoms at Kitano Tenmangu shrine, which should be on all Kyoto visitors’ to-see lists.
I may have this before but I really appreciate the overt appreciation for natural beauty in Japan. It causes me to look at the world around me with new eyes and re-examine things I would have walked past with only the briefest of glances. However, I can’t appreciate Ryoanji and it’s 15 rocks with raked rubble. Yes, it’s supposed to be one of the finest examples of a Zen rock garden. But I obviously can’t appreciate rock gardens. My inner zen is non-existent or only revealed when I’m in a more growing-things-filled environment. At 500円, Ryoanji is a total rip-off. To add insult to injury, you can wander the rest of the garden for free!