One of the pleasures of teaching English at スミス英会話長岡京校 is learning about the diverse lives of students and the rich culture of their homeland. And while I’m proud of my birthplace, Canada, our 150-year history is dwarfed by the long history of Japan. Some of the festivals celebrated today date back over a millennium!
Following a lesson on ordinal numbers (the Doll Festival is March 3rd), I received these photos via email. The first is from Misasa Hot Spring in Tottori Prefecture and is one of the lovelier doll collections I’ve seen.
The custom dates from the Heian period (roughly 800~1200 AD) and emerged from a notion the dolls could protect one from–and thus “contain”–evil spirits. The “possessed” dolls were subsequently released in the rivers of Kyoto to float to the sea, taking their evil spirits along for the ride.
Being neither a girl nor Japanese, I cannot speak from experience…but it seems most if not all girls receive a set of dolls while young. They are displayed from February by proud parents, in varying forms of simplicity (Emperor & Empress) or elaborateness (7 tiers with the former two sitting atop various levels of courtiers and musicians). The displays are quickly taken down after the 3rd; if not, legend has it, a daughter faces “late” marriage.
Whatever a late marriage might portend today, it’s certainly not as serious as it might have been a thousand years ago! Nevertheless, one of my students playfully/plaintively attributes her continued “failure” to take the plunge to her mother’s annual negligence in putting away the family dolls.
Well, to all the girls of Japan: Happy Doll Festival! And should it be important to you, be sure to quickly tuck the dolls away till next year!