Experience: Yanagawa Doll Festival

Hina Matsuri (Girls’ Day) may officially be over, but the displays in some locations will be up until the end of the month. One city in Japan that decorates for the Doll Festival in a big way is Yanagawa, a canal city at the very southern edge of Fukuoka Prefecture.

Beginning around mid-February, many shops, restaurants and even homes within the city limits will put up their hina displays. Of course, there are dolls, often up to five or seven tiers loaded with a “supporting cast”. The Emperor and Empress always sit on top, followed by three court ladies on the second tier and five musicians on the tier below that. The fourth tier holds ministers and the fifth tier holds servants. The bottom two tiers usually incorporate furniture, food or other objects.

A display of Hina dolls
A display of Hina dolls

Yanagawa sets itself apart from other towns, however, with the incorporation of two special crafts – the sagemon and the Yanagawa mari. Sagemon are mobiles  hung with up to 51 hand-crafted trinkets. These can range from colorful balls to animals to small human-like figures. The figures are often sewn from cloth in a patchwork style.


Yanagawa mari are a form of temari, traditional balls that originated in China and were once used in children’s games. They used to be made of leftover scraps of cloth from kimono but over the centuries, these balls became more decorative than functional and intricate designs were created and woven with string. Other regions lay claim to temari (like Matsumoto) but in Yanagawa, they can be added to the sagemon as well.

Yanagawa mari
Yanagawa mari

The local tourism offices provide a map of the locations of Hina displays open to the public and there are at least two dozen scattered throughout town. On weekends, you’ll often encounter special events like a parade of the dolls (young girls dressed up in kimono to look like the female hina dolls) on both land and sea (two different days) and other exhibitions.

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