Japan is known for its slightly quirky festivals, and each year on March 3rd there is one dedicated to dolls which many girls take part in. These little dolls aren`t the kind that you play with though as they are just displayed in their exquisite costumes. Such dolls have often been in the family for generations, and the idea is that the dolls are used to teach girls about traditional values. In the week leading up to Hina Matusri, families put the dolls on display in their indoor entrances and living rooms with great pride.
Little did I know but Inatori, located in the southeast of the Izu Peninsula, is actually the birthplace of the Hina Doll Festival, a tradition dating back as far as the 8th century. There is actually a museum in the area which houses a vast collection of hina dolls. When I first went to Izu-Inatori Station in early May I was unaware of this fairly unique and interesting little museum. I found out about it just after I`d left so I knew I wanted to return. As it turned out, that happened to be the very next day!
It`s a fairly small museum but quite overwhelming as there are just so many things to take in. The temporary exhibition (it`s closed in July and August) includes figures of people, flowers, animals, fish and food. To be more specific these include rabbits, crawling dolls, purse, owls, monkeys, persimmon, peaches, tortoises, flowers, sparrows, sandals, drums, balls, pigeons, fish, cranes, carrots, bibs and many more. There are about 50 different types in total.
Before visiting this museum, I was only really aware of the figure-like dolls on display in peoples homes as well as customs such as floating them away on boats (bad luck or illness is thought to be taken away with the dolls) or even burning them. However, there is a hanging-doll decoration custom dating from the late Edo period (1603–1868) that is unique to Izu Inatori.
As everyone knows, Japanese homes (particularly in the big cities) are much smaller than their western counterparts so hanging dolls are often a better option. The Chinese zodiac is important for which animal may be incorporated into the handiwork. Odd numbers are essential too as they can`t be divided and are luckier so the works attached to each string cannot be even numbers.
These folkcrafts are all handmade using cloth, thread, string, and cotton and each doll reflects the thoughts of the maker, so no two works are the same. This tradition continued from the Edo period until WWII the custom not surprisingly began to fade away as peoples focus was elsewhere. It was revived about a decade after the end of the war and the tradition continues today where it is celebrated in this museum of its birthplace.
- The museum is located in Inatori Cultural Park at 1729 Inatori, Higashiizu, Kamo-Gun, Shizuoka-ken.
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