Dolls feature fairly prominently in Japanese culture, from the ornamental hina ningyo of Girls’ Day (Hinamatsuri), to kokeshi, a popular souvenir. An importance that, along with the kanji for doll literally meaning ‘human form’, means they are very often treated differently than regular toys or ornaments.
Being a part of the family for years, as well as an integral element of a child’s upbringing, it is thought by some that dolls hold memories, or even have souls. As such, disposing of them can be very difficult, with many people feeling incapable of simply throwing them away — even believing there’ll be spiritual repercussions of some sort if they do. So ceremonies like ningyo kuyo — a kind of doll funeral — help owners say goodbye in a more dignified way. Prayers will be said. The dolls will be purified. And then the shrine or temple will deal with the disposal.
An event that makes for a slightly odd sight, as thousands of old companions and former family treasures are brought, displayed one last time, and then rather touchingly said goodbye to.
That is very Japanese.
It is, isn’t it? Fascinating to see.
Some of the traditional Japanese dolls though are terrifying, so not surprised owners are scared of some kind of retribution. They can be demonic looking things…
That’s the first time I hear about this. Very interesting!
Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂
I’d heard about it before, but this was the first time for me to actually see it. An interesting thing to stumble across purely by chance that’s for sure.
Theresa Amlong says
wow, if they would just take them to a flea market or shrine sale, they could make some good money. I see some gorgeous dolls in there!
Yeah, pretty sure some of them would be worth a fair bit of money. Perhaps selling is deemed as bad as throwing away.
David Keesee says
Oh dear, selling them would be horrifically worse than tossing them away.
Theresa Amlong says
that looks like a Shinto priest. I thought Shinto was for happier ceremonies …
To be honest it wasn’t really sad, especially as people were saying thanks as well as goodbye. A mixture of ceremony and celebration really.
David Keesee says
The Shinto religion touches on all aspects of life, just like any other worldview system. Followers of it believe everything, even inanimate objects, has a spirit. Definitely makes sense that he’d be there to help usher on the “little human forms”, or dolls, to the next phase.
Bernadette Marchetti says
This reminds me of this urban legend about Cabbage Patch Kids I heard as a kid. Apparently, if the Cabbage Patch Kid you own doesn’t have Xavier Roberts’s name on the doll’s posterior, it would awake in the middle of the night and murder everyone. Even though both my Cabbage Patch Kids had the signature (why it was on the butt, I’ll never understand), I was so scared of my dolls for years afterwards. I found them when I was a teenager buried at the bottom of my closet.
I can only imagine how disturbing that must have been as a child…
Personally I don’t believe in ghosts, spirits or any such thing, but I still find old dolls unsettling. What it is about them I don’t know, but what I do know is that I’d never have one in my own house.
Amazing! I’ll go on Sunday to Meji Shrine and take a look.
Where did you take this wonderful pic exactly? I’d really like to go there… 🙂
It’s at the main shrine area, so you can’t miss it. Only trouble is I have a feeling the ceremony was that day, so they may have all gone. Might be worth trying to check beforehand.
Very very cool. There are some old dolls as well as modern (Pikachu anyone? I see two!). I feel kinda sorry for these dolls though. Growing up and watching Toy Story made me feel like dolls and plushes are as part of a family as a dog or cat. LOL. I know my daughter would never let go of her Pooh…. Actually kinda glad I can’t visit. My daughter would want to take most of those guys home! 🙂
That’s the thing, dolls having souls and containing memories is one thing, but what’s for definite is that people do get very attached to them. And ceremonies like this do make it easier to get rid of them I suppose.
Not only would my Japanese wife not throw out a doll, she wouldn’t allow my daughter to have a second-hand doll once belonging to my sister because of the doll’s ‘soul’. There’s superstition for you.
Blimey, that really is. Surprising what power they hold. Or at least what people think they may hold. But like I mentioned in the comments above, for me at least there is something strangely unsettling about certain dolls. Something that doesn’t make any sense, but yet is there nonetheless.
I would have asked for all the Mickeys as a gift for my mom,she loves Mickey! XD
I also would have asked for the Pikachus!
Kathleen MM says
in 2008 I had bought a red geisha doll in Japan. Last night my wife told me that she had a dream about the Geisha doll that I have in my apartment. She told me a voice told her this Doll has broght me bad luck. The Red Geisha doll.
I don’t know what to do now.
I like that Doll but I have to just leave it for some one to pick it up
Is there a special time in the year to honor the dolls? We have four really old Geisha dolls, received from different sources. Some as old as 40 years. We would like to revere them and send them on there way.
My thought was naming them, wrapping them in white paper, a prayer, and give them a funeral fire (like wood stove)