The Japanese Dolls Festival: Unchanged in a Century

Dolls Festival is coming up on March 4th in Japan.  I found this description of an experience of the Festival from 1919.  What’s interesting is that it sounds like the Festival hasn’t changed much to this day…

Tokyo, Tuesday, March 4.

…Yesterday, to begin, was spent thus: It was the famous festival of dolls… (A family) invited me in to see their exhibition. Some of their dolls are two hundred years old from their mothers’ family… But it is true that one begins immediately to get the passion for dolls; they are not dead things like ours, but works of art symbolic of all the different phases of national life. The little girls were delighted with their possessions…

In the afternoon I was invited to go to the best or one of the best collections in the country and that was a great experience… The family that owns this famous collection is very old and the wife is the daughter of a Daimyo, hence the dolls are very old. And they are wonderful, and more wonderful still their housekeeping equipment of old lacquer and porcelain and glass. The doll refreshments are served in tiny dishes on tiny tables while the guests sit on the floor, the hostess and her family doing all the serving. We had the thick white wine made from rice poured out of wonderful little decanters into tiny glasses. We drank to the health of the family and the stuff is delicious, with an aroma such as no honey can excel. After these refreshments we were shown the room for the tea ceremony and then taken back into the foreign part of the house for real refreshments, which consisted of many and wonderful varieties of cakes. The tea was served in cups with saucers decorated with plum blossoms, this being the time of plum blossoms. Then tea cups taken away and cups of rich chocolate placed on the tables. These tables were high enough for the ordinary chairs… The Baroness urged us to eat special cakes and we left stuffed. One kind is in the form of a beautiful pink leaf wrapped in a cherry leaf which has been preserved from last year. The leaf gives the cake a delicious flavor and also a cover to protect the fingers from its stickiness. Then three little round brown cakes looking some like chocolate-on a skewer. You bite off the first one whole, then slip the other two as you eat them. Those alone are enough for a meal and very nourishing. All cakes are made from bean paste or like our richest pastries. When that second meal was finished, we said good-bye. The Baroness and her three pretty daughters and her sister all followed us to the outer door and when our auto drove off the last thing we saw were the bows of the butlers and these pretty ladies, all saying one more harmonious good-bye. The young girls dress in kimonos of wool muslin…

The garden is indescribable. I had some fancy of what a Japanese garden would look like, but find it is nothing at all beside the reality. This place is big and the grass is now brown. Most of the grass is covered with a thick carpet of pine needles and at the edge of the pine needle carpet a rope of twisted straw outlines graceful curves. The use of the big stones is the most surprising part of the whole. They are very old and weather-stained, of many shades of gray and blue-gray, with the short shrubs for a background, and the severity and simplicity of the result has a classic beauty which we may attain in centuries, and only after we have consumed our abundance of things material.

This description comes from Letters from China and Japan by John Dewey and Alice Chipman Dewey.  I edited it down from the original longer version.

This article was posted on Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 at 10:32 pm and is filed under Books & Stories, Countries & Cultures, Hina Matsuri - Doll Festival - Girls' Day, Holidays Around the World, Japan, Letters from China and Japan. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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