Japanese Culture articles, rants, and conversations.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Japanese Culture Article

JAPANESE DOLLS: Boy's Day Festival in Japan

Who wouldn’t be fascinated by the concept of having a whole festival dedicated to dolls? Dolls are shown in Girl’s Day and Boy’s Day festivals in Japan, and cherished over the generations. Boy’s Day dolls can consist of anything from a healthy-looking Sumi wrestler to a samurai warrior or his armor.

The dolls are usually set up in a hierarchal arrangement in the family home, meant to show, perhaps, the emperor and empress, courtiers, handmaidens, and warriors in a social hierarchy in a way a child can understand. The same approach may ring true with the carp-shaped banners ranged according to size either on a pole outside the house. The big fish is daddy, next size down is mother, the next smallest is elder son or daughter. In the countryside, on a rope across a river, the fish banners represent the villagers. Everything has a hidden meaning.
Beside the obvious link with Japanese doll festivals, collecting dolls has a much deeper psychological basis. It is believed that ancient Japanese samurai warriors tied cloth mascot dolls underneath their clothing before going into a particularly ferocious fight.

Whether this is true or not, try this experiment. Walk through the Cairo Museum in Egypt, turn right, and just beyond where the yellow flowers were found, still colorful after 2500 years in a pyramid tomb, you’ll come on the figure of a scribe. He’s almost life-size, seated cross-legged, and as you swing around the corner his quartz eyes stare out at you across the centuries, and your heart turns over with a jolt of recognition.

Further north in Istanbul, touring the museum on Topkapi grounds above the Bosphorus, you come across the statue of Sappho and the same sense of recognition hits you. This woman lived. And loved, and wrote amazing poetry. A human response across the centuries since Ancient Greece.

Dolls give you this leap of recognition, albeit on a much smaller scale, and you don’t have to be a rabid doll collector to account for it. Perhaps it is the human miniature that grabs our imagination.

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