Traditional Japanese Dolls

In Japan, dolls have been a part of everyday life since ancient times. Japanese dolls are made to embody the customs of Japan and the aspirations, attire and attitude of its people.. Over time the crafting of dolls and their display has developed into a tradition that today takes many different forms with distinctive regional attributes.

Japanese dolls also provide a medium to highlight other aspects of Japanese culture. They display features of family-life, fashion and recreation; of Hina Matsuri itself and the military and sporting prowess shown by Tango No Sekku dolls, all of which will, no doubt, be enlightening to Jamaicans. This travelling exhibition was developed by the Japan Foundation and displayed here through the efforts of the Embassy of Japan in Jamaica and National Museum Jamaica, a division of the Institute of Jamaica.

Known as ningyo (meaning ‘human form’), dolls are considered to be one of the great artistic expressions of Japan, and although a people’s culture may change over time, the Japanese have remained quite devoted to the creation of dolls. There are two main Japanese doll festivals which occur annually, the Hina Matsuri, or Girls’ Day Festival commemorated on the 3rd of March and Tango No Sekku, or the Boys’ Day Festival, on the 5th of May.

Hina Matsuri ひな祭り
The Hina Matsuri Doll Festival is celebrated on the 3rd of March each year, coinciding with the spring blossoming of Japan’s beloved Peach Trees, when parents and daughters celebrate their health and happiness. The festival had its origin about 1,000 years ago in the Heian Period (794-1192). It is customary in each Japanese home, to collect and reserve a space to display ceremonial dolls on decorated tiers covered in scarlet red fabric. An array of dolls arranged according to hierarchy are dressed and presented in the traditional costumes of the ancient Japanese court. The Emperor and Empress are placed on the upper-most tier, followed by the ladies-in-waiting and court ministers.

Today, the manufacture of these finely crafted figures continues as a thriving example of traditional Japanese art. As part of the spring festivities, straw dolls sitting in paper boats can be seen cast down the streams, rivers and canals that traverse many Japanese cities. The dolls carry away with them misfortune and bad luck, acting as surrogates of society, of their creators and their owners. There is also the belief that if a girl does not put away the dolls quickly after the Hina Festival, she will not get married for a long time.

Tango No Sekku 端午の節句

The Tango No Sekku Boys’ Day Festival is celebrated annually on the 5th of May and it also has a long history. The Boys’ Day Festival has existed since the Nara Period (710–784). The 5th of May date, in turn, marks the change of season in Japan from spring to summer. This festival was originally celebrated in the homes of Japanese warriors and was aimed at inspiring courage and determination among boys.

Today it is celebrated in all households, the male dolls and the other symbols featured during the Tango No Sekku highlight the positive characteristics of the warrior and of masculinity, such as pride, chivalry and self-sacrifice. Traditionally it involved the performance of rituals such as the preparation and taking of medicines believed to protect the community from disease and disaster. At the Imperial Court, Japanese irises, flowers that are also regarded as symbols of protection, come into bloom at this time, while archery tournaments took place, to symbolically drive out evil spirits.

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