Express Gratitude to Your Beloved Dolls at This Unique Festival at Meiji Shrine

  • At the mention of Meiji Shrine, what comes to your mind? The lush greenery along the forest paths leading to the shrine? Traditional Japanese marriage ceremonies taking place on the shrine’s grounds? For those who may not know, this Shinto shrine is dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken (even though the emperor’s grave is actually located in Kyoto).

    The original building of the shrine was destroyed during the Tokyo air raids of World War II so the building you see now was rebuilt in 1958 through a public fundraising exercise. Coupled with its status as a Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社) i.e. the top rank of government-supported shrines, Meiji Shrine has become a must-visit for many tourists in Tokyo. This is further accentuated by its proximity to the Shibuya and Harajuku areas.

    Do you know that there is a thanksgiving festival for dolls held at this sacred place every October? Read on to find out more about this fascinating festival!

    Meiji Shrine Doll Thanksgiving Festival

    The Meiji Jingu Ningyou Kansha Matsuri (明治神宮人形感謝祭) i.e. Meiji Shrine Doll Thanksgiving Festival is an annual event which was first held in 1989. This 2017, it will take place on October 15, from 9 AM to 3 PM.

    The Japanese believe that there are spirits residing in dolls, thus warranting a need to treat each doll with the utmost respect and care. Since historic times, even if a doll became broken, dirty, or worn out due to age, they were usually not thrown away carelessly. Before dolls were disposed of, the spirits within had to be exorcised along with a thanksgiving ceremony to express the gratitude of the owner towards the dolls.

    In Japan, there is an organization named “Ningyo ni Kanshasuru Kai (人形に感謝する会)” i.e. the “Association to Express Thanks to Dolls” which organizes the annual Meiji Shrine Doll Thanksgiving Festival every autumn at Meiji Shrine. The association is made up of people who love the doll culture, industry insiders, and the Nihon Ningyou Kyoukai (日本人形協会) i.e. Japan Doll Association.

    Festival Highlights

    Through this festival, the public is encouraged to bring their old, broken, or spoilt dolls to Meiji Shrine where a mass exorcism ceremony will be carried out to “transfer” the spirits from the dolls to paper figurines, and for owners to express thanks to these dolls which were once dear and important to them.

    In 2016, approximately 8,900 people from the Tokyo Metropolitan area alone brought a total of about 49,000 dolls to the festival. Due to the limitations of space, however, not every doll is displayed for the exorcism ceremony. Visitors are free to look at the dolls which are on display at the shrine’s grounds.

    In the main hall of the shrine, there will be a solemn Kagura ceremony which consists of three parts: a taiko performance, exorcism of the doll spirits, and an Urayasu no Mai (浦安の舞) i.e. Urayasu Dance performance by two priestesses. However, due to ongoing renovation works at the shrine, there will be a limit to the number of visitors who can observe this Kagura ceremony. Note that only those who have brought dolls for the exorcism ceremony will be allowed to join the queue and that photography is banned.

    Festival Participation

    If you are planning to bring your doll to this festival, please head to the special counters located at the southern gate of the shrine between 9 AM and 3 PM. However, if you wish to attend and observe the exorcism ceremony at the main shrine, you will have to come before 11 AM.

    Generally, there is no restriction on the type and size of the doll so it can be anything from traditional Japanese dolls, soft toys, or Western dolls. However, dolls that are stored inside a glass case or that have batteries inside cannot be accepted unless you remove it from the glass case or the batteries from the doll itself.

    As for the cost involved, if your doll can fit into a 45-liter plastic bag, it should be accepted for a minimum fee of 3,000 yen. But if your doll is so big that it can’t fit into the bag or cannot be carried by one person, the counter staff will ascertain the fee to be charged and advise you of it so that you can make a decision as to whether you wish to proceed.

    For the convenience of foreigners who may want to participate in this festival, there will be pamphlets in four languages i.e. English, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.

    Memories Doll Exhibition

    Last but not least, don’t miss the Omoide Ningyouten (思い出人形展) i.e. Memories Doll Exhibition which will take place at the shrine’s office building from October 13 to 15, 2017. On display are some of the dolls brought to the festival over the years. Through this exhibition, you can get a feel of how people’s lives and the doll culture have evolved over time.

    There is no entrance fee for this exhibition which is open for access from 9 AM to 4 PM every day, except on October 15, 2017, when the closing time is one hour earlier i.e. 3 PM.

    Having read so much about this unique festival, how about making a trip to Meiji Shrine this October to do more than just bask in the shrine’s serene and sacred atmosphere?

    Meiji Shrine Doll Thanksgiving Festival Website *Japanese only

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