Throw the dolls in the river!


Watch the dolls float away!

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.

Only Y630,000...

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.

Brother and sister cuteness alert!

The mini Emperor and Empress get ready for their photo shoot"

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.

Stunning plum blossom!

Crazy bull is unmoved by beautiful blossoms

Kitano Tenmagu and Plum Blossom

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!

Enthralling. Inner Zen alert.

9 thoughts on “Throw the dolls in the river!

      • I’ve been teaching for more than two years now. I rarely have offline classes. πŸ™‚

      • Hope you’re enjoying it! I really like my private students because we’re sort of like friends! Plus there are always some English classics….when describing a “miracle” a student called it “a God-job!” Made me laugh πŸ˜€

  1. I still find Japanese culture hilarious.
    Host mom: “We actually used to throw the dolls into the rivers every year.”
    Me: “Oh jeez… they were paper though!”
    Host mom: “Doll shapes attract evil, even paper ones.”
    Me (glancing at host sister’s hinamatsuri dolls): “But these don’t?”
    Host mom: “The practice went out of fashion it seems when they got expensive.” (not too sure if she was joking about this or dead serious)
    Hmmmm… ^^”
    Happy be-lated Hinamatsuri! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

    • Hahaha so they did used to chuck expensive-ish ones into the water – I’m not surprised! The fear of evil possessing dolls though is pretty creepy….I’m starting to think Chucky and I’ve not even seen those movies!
      It says on Wikipedia that they’ve stopped throwing dolls in the river at Shimogamo because fishermen kept catching them in their nets but they totally did when I was there. Maybe there was a “safety net” just a little bit downstream….

  2. Oh and Happy Belated Hinamatsuri to you too! πŸ˜€ I’ll be keeping up with your blog so we can compare all Japanese festivals and other hilarious events! πŸ˜€

  3. I would think tossing human shaped anything into the river would not be popular this year. But then again I’m just an American ^^. I agree, zen rock gardening does nothing for me. It looks like a raked gravel parking lot. On another note I suddenly want to paint some flowers.

    • I didn’t think of that but when you put it like that, it seems so obvious! :O My first reaction was “nooo don’t ruin it for me” but actually, when I re-checked the photo, I rationalised that the dolls look so serene and all safe in little boats – they even have a safety bar to hold on to! So it’s all OK! πŸ™‚

      Totally with you about zen rock gardens – growing things all the way! Be sure to blog any flower paintings πŸ™‚

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