There is a dollmaker shop in Tokyo’s Naka Okachimachi neighborhood specializing in dolls that serve as charms for the good health of young boys and girls. Yet, at this time of year, they delight their customers with something a little bit different — in tune with the festive end-of-year mood.
Perhaps one of the most natural instincts in the world is to protect, care, and pray for your children’s growth and good health. So it’s not surprising that Japan has several festivities that celebrate children’s health.
The two main festivities of this kind are the Hina Matsuri on March 3, and Kodomo no Hi on May 5, dedicated to girls and boys, respectively.
The traditions of the Hina Matsuri are said to go back more than 1,000 years. In the days preceding the holiday, families all over Japan take out a beautiful doll set, and display it in their house. The sets often illustrate Heian court ladies, and they are said to protect the house from evil spirits.
On Kodomo No Hi, along with the flying carp decorations we are so used to seeing, families traditionally display an elaborate decorative mini armor helmet, which works as a charm for the good health of boys in the household, and a protection against bad events.
Where there is a tradition, there is a craftsman that goes with it. In this case, we found Mataro Ningyo, a dollmaker in Naka Okachimachi, Tokyo.
The Mataro family has more than 100 years of history as dollmakers. It is now reaching the third generation of craftsmen, and the family has its own unique take on the dolls’ expressions, for example.
With Japan’s shrinking child population, however, and a market which could potentially get smaller in the future, there have been questions about how to keep the tradition alive, and even add new elements to the craft. Clearly, the new generation is keeping in step with the times.
On November 27, Mataro Ningyo unveiled 2019’s dolls of the year. They are six decorative celebratory sets, picking up significant events from the news that most captured Japan.
Among their creations, one can spot the VIPs who stole Japan’s heart in 2019, such as Emperor Naruhito and his wife Empress Masako. These dolls were made to commemorate the start of the Reiwa Era and the ascension of the new Emperor.
There are also likenesses of the infectiously cheerful Akira Yoshino, the Nobel Laureate for Chemistry who collaborated on the invention of the now- ubiquitous lithium-ion battery.
From the sports world, there is a doll set featuring the “smiling Cinderella,” Hinako Shibuno, and the basketball wonderkid Ryu Hachimura. In a separate showcase, one can find the much-adored Japanese national Rugby team captain Michael Leitch.
Finally, there were a couple of decorations which reflected on some of the trends of 2019, including the invasion of tapioca bubble tea, and the commercial buzzword “cashless payment.”
The minutely-crafted dolls make for a nostalgic reflection on what 2019 has been for Japan. The dolls will be available for viewing by the general public from January 4 to March 3, 2020, at the Naka Okachimachi branch of Mataro Ningyo.
The address is here, and entry is completely free. If you are around, make sure to stop by and wonder at the figures of 2019.
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(Click here to read the related story in Japanese.)
Author: JAPAN Forward