There are many Japanese superstitions about dolls which were believed to have souls and the power to influence people’s lives. A large number of these dolls are placed on the altar of Awashima Shrine, a shrine dedicated to women in Kada, Wakayama Prefecture. It is popular for “hina ningyo” dolls which are given to young girls on Girl’s Day which takes place on March 3rd every year.
Awashima Shrine primarily centers on receiving dolls from different people who cannot discard them with their rubbish. These dolls are considered more significant, as they play the role of mediators for praying for forgiveness and absolution. It was believed that when women stroke the dolls, they are trying to transfer their wrongdoings onto them. When this happens, it becomes tarnished that they have to cast it away in the temple’s nearest running water where they will be purified. This is still being practiced today.
Ningyo Kuyo is regarded as a kind of a doll funeral where owners say goodbye to their old dolls. During this process, they have to say their prayers before purifying and disposing of the dolls. The event is something of an odd sight where you can see several of these old companions being brought into the shrine and displayed one last time before their owners say goodbye to them. It is quite a touching sight in the shrine where people just have a hard time throwing these family treasures away.
Awashima Shrine is also popular for Girl’s Day, also known as Hina Matsuri in Japanese. It is also during this particular festival that you can see the shrine swarmed with many dolls which gives it a striking appearance. These dolls are spared from the flame (like that of the Ningyo Kuyo) and instead, are sent out on wooden boats into the sea. Other events to look forward to at the shrine are Hari Matsuri (February 8), Spring Grand Matsuri (April 3 and 4) and Autumn Grand Matsuri (October 3).
Don’t miss Doll festivals ’Hinamatsuri’ in March!