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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on March 30, 2017
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 77] March 30, 2017

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 77]
March 30, 2017
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal Event:
Sublimated from a scapegoat to an art piece "Doll"

2. News from JTCO:
New article released!

1) Kanazawa Shikki: Kanazawa Lacquerware
2) Suruga Hina Dolls
3) Osaka Naniwa Suzuki :Pewter/Tin Ware
4) Kurotani Washi: Kurotani Japanese paper

:: 1. Seasonal Event

Here is a Tanka composed by Murasaki Shikibu, compiled in "The tale of
Genji (The oldest novel about nobles (11c))" in the episode of "Suma".
"Shirazarishi Oumino harani Nagarekite Hitokataniyawa Monowa
Interpretation: I had flown like a Hitokata (paper doll) to an unknown
ocean, feeling deepest sorrow.

Although now is still the season of seeing Japanese apricot flowers
and we have to wait a bit while for peach tree (momo) blossoming, it
is already time to celebrate Momo no Sekku which is called
"Hinamatsuri Festival", "Girls' Day" or "Doll's Day". Because 3rd
March in the lunar calendar is early April in the new calendar, many
events related to Ohinasama dolls of Hinamatsuri Festivals will be
held for one more month in all over Japan.

There are many traditional dolls such as "Hinaningyo dolls" which are
made in the shape of nobles from the Heian period (8-12c), such as
"Ichimatsu dolls" which are wearing a kimono and are used as
children's dress up dolls, and also "Gogatsu dolls" which are samurai
dolls for the Boy's Festival on 5th May (Gogatsu). Japanese children
grow up with these gorgeous dolls since they are born as those kinds
of traditional dolls are a profound part of Japanese life. There are
apparently no other East Asia countries has similar doll culture as
Japan. The neighbour countries, China or South Korea, do not have any
festivals equivalent to the Hinamatsuri Festival. Before civilization,
children were even prohibited from playing with dolls in South Korea.

Dolls have been used as a talisman or an object for magic and spells
in a number of prehistoric religions in the world. 100% of Japanese
Dogu clay figures in the Jomon period (B.C.145-B.C.3c) as well as most
of the ancient dolls in many other cultures were modelled into woman.
It seems that they were made for festivals to pray for prosperity of
descendants or a good harvest as mother goddess. And also,
intentionally smashed or burned Dogu clay figures were found in
dumpsites. We can see that it was used as an object for exorcism.

When it became the Kofun period (3-7c), Haniwa clay dolls started to
be made in Japan. Before it started, there had been a custom that when
a noble man died, his attendants were buried alive around the tomb.
Because the cry of those people was too painful to listen to, a man
called NOMI no Sukune advised to the emperor to swap from human
sacrifice to human shaped Haniwa dolls.

Dolls used to be called "Hitokata (human model)" or "Katashiro
(Substitute model)" a long time ago. People stroked dolls which were
made from woods or plants to transfer their bad spirits as well as
troubles, and then floated down into the river or the sea. Tanka in
the opening paragraph was made by the main character in the story,
Genji, on the day of Joshi no Sekku (March 3rd) which is one of the
five annual ceremonies.

Joshi no Sekku was originated in China. A banquet called "Kyokusui no
Utage (winding stream banquet)" started in the Qin Dynasty which is
held for purifying the body at the waterfront on this day. In this
event, a sake cup was floated on a slow effluent and the people had to
take in turns to compose and sing a poem before the cup was going
through in front of him, otherwise he had to drink the sake in his cup.
The same event was held in the 5th century in Japan according to
"Nihonshoki (the second oldest book of Japanese history (8c))". The
ritual of flushing impurity with water affiliated with a doll
subsequently became "Hinamatsuri festival".

As a substitute doll, called "Amagatsu" was created among noble
families. The doll was called "Houko" among common people. These dolls
were placed near children's pillows to transfer their illness and
misfortune and then thrown into the river or the sea, or it could be
burned to purify their spirits.

This kind of amulet dolls was gradually used as a toy for children as
well. In the "Tale of Genji", there are many episodes about "Hina
Asobi" alongside the descriptions of "Amagatsu" dolls. It seems that
dolls were fully recognized as a toy by this time in Japan.

Hina dolls started to be used as a decoration in the room since the
Muromachi period (14-16c). In the Edo period (17-19c), to protect the
bride from accident on the way towards broom's home, the bride used to
hold a doll on hand in palanquin. The custom spread to samurai family
and court nobles. Hina dolls became luxury as a trousseau.

It is surprising that such beautiful dolls that Japanese familiarized
with had such a unique development among East Asia. You can take the
dolls in hand or see the photo from internet to appreciate the
technique of such gorgeous handicraft. Everyone will be surprised by
those funny faces or delicately made kimono or accessories.

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

:: 2. News from JTCO:

New Article Released!

1) Kanazawa Shikki: Kanazawa Lacquerware

The major feature of Kanazawa lacquerware is gorgeous and detailed
pattern realized by highly developed maki-e*1) technique.
*1) Maki-e literally means sprinkled artwork, which is done by
spreading gold or silver powder onto the wet surface of desiccating

The foundation of Kanazawa lacquerware was established by inviting two
master craftsmen; IGARASHI Doho, who was a maki-e master in Kyoto
(West Japan) and served for Shogun family in the Muromachi period
(1336-1573), and SHIMIZU Kuhei, who was from Edo (present day Tokyo,
East Japan).

Translated by: Namiko Murakami, reviewed by Miwa Odagiri

2) Suruga Hina Dolls

The major characteristics of Suruga Hina Dolls (traditional dolls of
the Emperor and Empress, displayed during the Japanese Doll
Festival/Girl's Day, March 3rd) are larger straw bodies compared to
other Hina dolls from various places in Japan. The bodies are carved
diagonally to match the curve of the chest. The central part of
Shizuoka prefecture traditionally had a large amount of rice
production, and rice straw was easy to obtain. This is considered to
be the reason why people used straw for the dolls' bodies. The sharp
silhouette and firm structure of the dolls are remarkable as well.

Translated by: Yukari Yamagishi

3) Osaka Naniwa Suzuki :Pewter/Tin Ware

Tin is a very soft metal, making it hard to craft by machining.
Therefore most of the crafting steps of suzuki (Japanese pewter /tin
ware) must be done manually. After casting, the individual pieces are
turned on lathes to shape and polish.

Since ancient times, suzuki were created, including religious
ceremonial decanters and 'sakaki' (sacred evergreen) stands, as well
as tea canisters and saucers. Initially, suzuki was enjoyed only by
limited groups of people, such as those in the imperial court, but
during the Edo period (17-19c), they began to be used in general
public as well.

Translated by:Emi Yagasaki,reviewed by Misa Imanaka

4) Kurotani Washi: Kurotani Japanese paper

The pure washi (hand-made Japanese paper) manufactured by traditional
methods which have a history of a thousand years is not only beautiful
but also resistant to humidity and breathable.

Moreover, because washi does not easily deteriorate, it is not so
unusual for handmade Japanese papers to last more than 1000 years. Its
fibers are so long that it is resistant to tear even if the paper is
folded many times.

Translation by: Satomi Hirasawa Yamashita, reviewed by Moe Shoji

Copyright by Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion and
Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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