Hina Matsuri (Girls’ Festival)

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March 3rd is Hina Matsuri (Girls’ Festival) in Japan. The traditional way to celebrate is for girls to set up these elaborate displays of dolls – the emperor and the empress are at the top, then the ladies in waiting, then the court musicians. Below there are two guards (with bows and arrows), and lots of traditional furnishings and accessories made of lacquer, including a tea ceremony stand with tiny bowls and even a tea whisk! At the bottom in the middle is a cart that would have been pulled by oxen.

If a family is rich then they might buy a set of hina dolls like this when their daughter is born. A set like this costs a fortune! Of course you can also buy smaller sets, or just single dolls.

These hina dolls are on display at the World Friendship Center in Hiroshima. So if you go to Hiroshima, you can go to see them.

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A Tanuki Family

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You see ceramic tanuki (raccoon dog) statues everywhere in Japan, especially outside inns and guesthouses and in people’s gardens. But it’s quite rare to see a whole family like this one!
Dad has got a big sun hat and his saké bottle. Mum has a saké bottle too and a hair ribbon. I guess the little tanuki are a girl and a boy (the boy is wearing a hat like his dad).
These ones were in a restaurant window in Jujo in Tokyo.

Tsukuba Space Rocket

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Tsukuba is a city famous for its science universities, companies and museums and it is also the location for Japan’s Space Agency. There is a park near Tsukuba Station and in the park there is a real space rocket next to the Tsukuba Space Museum. It looks pretty impressive!

The Flintstones Lantern

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This is a traditional Japanese lantern that you might find in a temple or garden. Instead of being smooth and carved it is rough and made from natural stones. It looks like something from the famous cartoon films ‘The Flintstones’!

Creative Art

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The Japanese like to decorate everyday things, for example instead of having normal drain covers they often have ones with artistic scenes that relate to the place where they are.
The picture at the top is from Tsukuba City, where the Japan Space Exploration Agency is based. The ones below are from a Buddhist temple on a mountain near Tokyo and Saitama City, which promotes itself as a ‘green city’.

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A Friendly Spirit

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One of the Buddhas that you are most likely to see in Japan is Jizo-san. He is the Buddha of babies, children and weak people who need help. He is also the Buddha of travellers, so you often find his statues along paths and roads. It’s the custom to donate hats and bibs to Jizo-san to please him and show him respect. Red is the colour of safety and protection in Japan so the hats and bibs are usually (but not always) this colour.

Tiny Trees

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These are traditional Japanese bonsai. Bonsai are trees which people have planted in shallow trays (the meaning of bonsai is tray planting!). Because the trees are in small trays (so the roots stay small) and the owners skillfully keep on cutting them back, they grow in to what look like big trees but actually they are still only about half a metre high! All these trees are more than 100 years old, but the one in the first picture is more than 500 years old. But however old they are they stay tiny little trees. How amazing is that!?!

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A Mechanical Suit

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This is a statue of a mechanical ‘Gundam Suit’ from a very well-known Japanese manga, television show and video game series called Gundam. The statue is located in front of the main entrance to a shopping mall on Tokyo’s Odaiba Island called Diver City. There’s a Gundam Café and a Gundam museum called ‘Gundam Front‘ in the shopping mall too. The Gundam stories and battles are set in a different universe to ours and in this universe people in huge robot suits (like in the picture) battle each other. This robot suit statue is about 18 metres tall (‘life size’ according to the makers!). It lights up at night and steam comes out of its chest. It’s very impressive even if you don’t know anything about the Gundam stories!

Little Heroes

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I saw these three cute little animals in a shop window in Nara. They are all made out of felt. The one in the middle is a character called Kintaro. He’s a folk story hero who had incredible strength and fought demons! The one on the right is called Momotaro (the Peach Boy) and is another folk story hero. His flag says “Japan One” which means something like ‘best in all Japan’ and he’s wearing a little head band with a peach on it because he was supposed to have be born out of a peach! I have no idea who the little squirrel on the left is. It seems to be wearing a kind of grass skirt and perhaps carrying a fishing rod? If you have any idea who it represents please let me know in the comments :-).