Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Guise and Dolls

I may have mentioned it before, but Japan has a huge doll culture, going back a long time.  One part of this culture is Hina Matsuri, or the Girls Festival.  This festival involves setting up an ornate display of imperial court dolls, which - like a lot of Japan's dolls - are believed to absorb misfortunes, in this case of the girls of the home.

This weekend was Hina Matsuri, but this post actually began last week, with the precursor to Hina Matsuri - Nagashibina.  In the past, rather than just set the dolls up and wish for good luck, the tradition was to release the dolls on the river, and they would carry the bad luck and catastrophes away with them.  But there are very few places that still celebrate Nagashibina.  Fortunately I'm just a "short" ride from old Edo.  On the banks of the Sumida River each year they hold a Nagashibina ceremony, and since the Tokyo 2nd Ward now meets in the afternoon, I saw no reason not to check it out.

Online it mentioned that the ceremony would be cancelled if it rained, and as I got dressed I noticed that it was pretty gray out, but I headed towards Asakusa anyways.  I was worried about being able to find the right spot, but once I made it over to the Sumida River, it was pretty easy to figure it out - I haven't seen anything that big and pink since....well, never mind.  For the record, it took place on the Asakusa side of Sumida Park, pretty close to the station (coincidentally, one block over from the Coco Curry...if you use Coco Curry as a landmark...)

The big pink things were slides set up to launch your emperor and empress down the river.  Hypothetically this meant that they didn't flip over at the bottom like a kayak, but it didn't always end up that way.  When I first read about Edo Nagashibina, I wasn't sure what to expect as far as the dolls went.  There are doll memorials where actual 3D dolls are sent out to sea on their final voyage, but these were just paper dolls, which makes sense because you wouldn't want to add MORE pollution to the river.
I mean, besides a thousand paper dolls, anyways.  They didn't make it very far before the paper became waterlogged and they started to sink, but I've seen paper like this before in Japan, and it dissolves as it sinks.  Probably still not the most ecologically sound practice, but if it saves girls from misfortunes then who am I to judge?

Alright.  This is where I'm gonna take a break from my regularly scheduled blogging and rant a bit.  America.  Seriously, what the fuck?  Here I am in Japan, which is pretty much the safest place ever, and over here we're protecting our children with beautiful traditions.  In the end, yes, it's probably pointless, but nobody ever died because you sent a paper doll down the river.  Meanwhile back home the only solution you can think of is MOAR GUNZ!!!  I've had so many conversations in the last two and a half weeks, trying to be rational and calm with people whose kneejerk reaction is "THESE ARE MY RIGHTS AND YOU CAN'T HAVE THEM."  There is no empathy.  There is no ability to imagine that someday some asshole with a gun might hurt someone they love.  There is no realization that if that happens, it will not be where they and their guns can do a damn bit of good.  It will be at their school, out shopping, or in a movie theater.  But they will at least have their rights, so bully for them.

The fact that we have to rely on businesses - whether it's Dick's stepping up and saying, "We'll be responsible about what we sell," or companies withdrawing discounts to NRA members - is just sad and pathetic.  I applaud the hell out of them, but we actually already have people whose job it is to make our country a saver place - our lawmakers.  Shame on them.  We have students - kids who should be enjoying a so-called carefree adolescence (as if that time has ever been carefree in any age) - stepping up to show us the way.  Shame on us.  And so even though every time I go on facebook these days I feel exhausted and sick, I'm determined not to remain silent.  I've done that long enough, worried about offending family and friends, but the truth is the idea of a child I care about losing their life makes me sick, and I don't want anyone else to go through that.  So even if it means being patient and rational and trying to talk sense with people who don't want to hear sense, when all I want to do is scream, Imma ganbatte.  Imma register for my absentee ballots, and start writing letters and making a public nuisance of myself, because this shit is bananas.  And I don't mean that in a good way.
Right.  Rant over.  There was also a boat out on the river decked out in pink, that had girls launching their dolls onto the river.  I read somewhere that there is a lottery of some kind to be involved in Nagashibina, but without being able to read Japanese I wasn't sure how or where you apply, and since I don't have any daughters to take place in the ceremony, I didn't care enough to ask Google for help figuring it out.

This past Saturday was the actual Hina Matsuri celebration.  I considered a couple of ways of celebrating on my own - as a geek, for starters, although I ended up running out of time to make my display.  I also thought about going to the Mitsui Museum, or the Hyakudan Kaidan, both of which had displays of Hina dolls.  However, in the ass-backwards tradition that is inherently me, I decided to celebrate with an entirely different kind of doll.

See, Jindai-ji was holding its annual Daruma doll market.  It's the second oldest temple in Tokyo, originally built in 733, which kind of makes it worth a visit in its own right.  Or it would, if Chofu wasn't kind of out of the way; I had to take the train to Chofu station (two transfers), then a bus, and finally walk down the hill and around a corner.  It's probably still worth a visit, but I like to whine, and if it weren't for the fact that I used Darumas as part of my doll unit I might not have felt so inclined to make the trek...but I have my reputation as the creepy doll person to uphold, so I do what I must.
There was the usual festival atmosphere, with the avenue leading up to the temple crowded with food and game stalls.  Finally I fought my way through the crowd to the temple proper, which was overrun by small, round, red things - Daruma dolls.
Daruma is a type of wishing doll.  When you buy him, he has no iris or pupil - just a blank white eye.  When you make your wish, you're supposed to darken in a circle on his left eye (your right).  Then you hold the sight in his other eye for ransom until he's made your wish come true.  When that happens, you fill in the other eye and bring him back to the temple.
At Jindai-ji there were monks who would do this for you, with some nifty, super official calligraphy.  I didn't want to be rushed into making a wish when I wasn't sure what I wanted most, so rather than waste a wish I chose to go the DIY route with my eye-darkening.

In retrospect, I should have wished that our government would win their balls back from the NRA in a game of cards, or else grow a new pair.  Another good option would have been to have my countrymen wake up to the "evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days."  Oh well, live and learn.

There were several different colors of Daruma, and a couple of the merchants had a color chart, but none of the ones I saw were in English.  Since I wasn't able to pinpoint the meanings of the colors, I decided to go based on the colors I liked.  The big gold ones were really striking, and I was tempted for a while to get a black one, but in the end, I decided to get a gold one with red decorations, since red is by far the most traditional color.  It was just a small one though, because I was only four days into this month's paycheck and already wondering how I was going to afford all the things I wanted to do.  There were also a few different styles, like a maneki neko or a shiba inu - most of which seemed to have their eyes already.  These made me curious about how they were made, but I feel like holding his eyesight ransom is bad enough...dissecting him to see what he looks like inside just seems over the top.

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