Girls’ Day Dolls…On Steroids

At night, the biggest doll displays in Katsuura are all lit up

There’s a little town about two hours from Tokyo called Katsuura, where one a year, dolls rule. 12,000 of them, to be exact.

Just for comparison, this is about the most extravagant display I'd seen before going to Katsuura. Most people just put out the emperor and empress, but the ones who really lay out the big bucks collect the whole set: three ladies in waiting, fivie musicians, three important ministers and a bunch of furniture and occasionally, livestock

Just for comparison, this is about the most extravagant Girls’ Day display I’d seen before going to Katsuura. Most families just put out the emperor and empress, but the ones who are willing to lay out the really big bucks collect the whole set: three ladies in waiting, five musicians, two hoity-toity ministers, three drunken uncles and a bunch of furniture and occasionally, livestock

The most famous display is at the local shrine, where the dolls are set out every morning and put away every night by volunteers

The most famous display is at the local shrine, where the dolls are set out every morning and put away every night by an army of volunteers

But it's not the only doll extravaganza in town – these things are EVERYWHERE

But it’s not the only doll extravaganza in town – the other shrines and temples put out crazy numbers of them too, and because the town is small, you can just walk around and see them all

There's even a gym where all the bleachers are filled with dolls

There’s even a gym with the biggest doll cheering section ever

And it's not just the boggling number of dolls that thrill – there are some really gorgeous examples wearing 12-layer court dress kimonos, so you can get a sense of the fashions that rocked the Heian world.

And it’s not just the boggling number of dolls that thrill – there are some really gorgeous examples wearing 12-layer court dress kimonos, so you can get a sense of the fashions that rocked the Heian world.

There are really old dolls on display too – these were made over a hundred years ago

There are really old dolls on display too – these are Meiji Era Beauties

And how do you one-up the neighbors when you've already got the creme de la creme of art dolls? Put them in a palace instead of on the steps, of course!

And how do you one-up the neighbors when you’ve already shelled out for the creme de la creme of dolls? Why, build them a palace, of course!

As you walk around town, pretty much every business has a doll-themed display outside.

As you walk around town, pretty much every business has a doll-themed display outside…

and not all are ultra-traditional!

…and some are not exactly traditional

So, how did Katsuura get so many dolls? The truth is, pretty much every Japanese girlbaby is given a set on her first New Year’s, but if you run out of girls to hand them down to, they’re really hard to throw away!

It’s not just because they’re hella expensive – these dolls actually have to be cremated. Yes, because they’re invested with the power of Shinto gods, they fall into the category of sacred garbage. Which means you can’t just bundle them into a plastic bag and kick them to the curb on burnable trash day, you have to pay priests at a shrine for a doll funeral. (Nevermind the shoot-me-now horror of throwing away dolls and beloved stuffed animals – admit it, you have a scruffy collection in a box in the closet too!)

Jonelle Patrick writes mysteries set in Tokyo. Her fourth book – Painted Doll – is just out in paperback 

“A genuinely gripping crime thriller which wrong-foots and perplexes the reader throughout, drawing us in emotionally . . . Highly recommended.” Raven Crime Reads

It's been nine years since she didn't make it home, but now Tokyo Detective Kenji Nakamura's life is about to unravel... Read more

When Tokyo Detective Kenji Nakamura’s phone rings with the news that his mother’s death ten years ago wasn’t an accident, his world begins to unravel. New evidence links her to…read more