Hina Matsuri (Girls’ Festival)


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.








A Helpful Cow


In the grounds of Yushima Tenmangu shrine, which is located near Ueno in Tokyo, there is a special metal statue of a cow. People come here if they have some sort of pain in parts of their body because it is said that if you rub the Tenmangu cow in the same place as where you hurt or are sore, and then rub where the place on your actual body, then it is supposed to heal the pain! (Although if your stomach is hurting you can’t heal it easily because the cow is sitting down so it would be a bit hard to rub that part of the cow.) I was surprised to see lots of people touching the cow’s horns too. I wonder what kind of pain they wanted to cure?




Chrysanthemum Show


In November some shrines and gardens have beautiful displays of chrysanthemum flowers of all shapes, sizes and colours. Some are just single flowers, and other are huge domes of hundreds of flowers (all from the same plant I think!). A shrine called Yushima Tenmangu (near Ueno in Tokyo) even has a scene with life size historical figures where everything except their faces and hands is covered in chrysanthemum flowers. Apparently these ‘chrysanthemum dolls’ have been made for hundreds of years. They do look pretty amazing!



Lots of Cats


Gotokuji (in Setagaya-ku in Tokyo) is a temple where you can worship cats! It was made into a cat temple because of the following story. Once Gotokuji was a poor temple. The monks didn’t have any money, but they were always kind to a cat who lived with them at the temple. One day a Lord from a far away province was travelling to visit the Emperor in Edo (old Tokyo). As he passed this temple with his samurai he saw a cat outside the main gate, and it seemed the cat was beckoning for him to come into the temple, and so the Lord did so. A little later there was a ruthless storm and if the cat had not beckoned for the Lord and his men to come into the temple then they might have been killed by the storm! So after the Lord had rested and waited for the storm to pass he gave the temple a gift of lots of land for helping him, and so the temple became wealthy. When the cat that had beckoned the Lord into the temple (and therefore made the temple wealthy) died, the monks buried the cat and dedicated one area of the temple to cats. So that’s the story behind why this temple is a cat temple. The Gotokuji story is also the reason why many shops or cafes often have a beckoning white cat – a maneki-neko – on the counter or by the cash register!


Tiny Trees


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!?!



Samurai Skill


This is yabusame: mounted archery, in other words trying to hit a target while riding on galloping horse! Yabusame displays to honour the Shinto gods are held in Tokyo only 3 times a year. I was lucky enough to see this amazing festival of samurai skill in Takadanobaba. When the samurai still existed (until the middle of the 19th century) they tested their battle skills in ways such as riding a galloping horse while taking aim and firing at a target. The target is a wooden panel and they use special double point arrows to knock down the panel. At the display there were five riders dressed traditionally as equestrian samurai. Each man had his own horse, and they took it in turns to gallop along a sandy path with 3 targets along the way which they had to shoot at and try to hit. Now just imagine galloping along at top speed and then letting go of the reins to shoot an arrow at a target and then quickly reloading to do it again. There were lots of misses but also quite a lot of hits. One samurai actually managed to hit all 3 of the targets in a row!

Little Heroes


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 :-).