Girls’ Day Dolls…On Steroids
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 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 an army of volunteers
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 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.
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 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…
…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
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