Happy Hina Matsuri! This early spring holiday is one of my favorites in Japan, probably due to the fact that I have my own daughter, for whom we long ago purchased our family’s very first set of Hina dolls.
Five years later, we now own a few small sets (I told you, I really like this holiday), but I do my best every spring to get out and enjoy the larger displays that many shops, restaurants, hotels and even entire towns put on.
Today, March 3rd, is technically the actual date of the festival, but you still have until at least the 6th or 7th (2016 dates) to catch the displays mentioned below:
1.The Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku (Tokyo)
The Keio Plaza Hotel puts up a doll display every year and usually picks something unique about the doll festival to highlight in a further exhibit. This year, they showcased hundreds of strings of tsurushi kazari, or hanging ornaments for Girls’ Day. These ornaments are usually hand-sewn by female family members when a daughter is born and the shape of each (some are animals, some are humanlike figures) imparts certain meaning (good luck, longevity, wealth, health, etc).
The Keio Plaza Hotel is easily reached on the Toei Oedo metro line or in a short walk from JR Shinjuku Station.
2. Meguro Gajoen in Meguro (Tokyo)
Meguro Gajoen is a rather ostentatious wedding complex/Japanese-style hotel right near Meguro Station in – you guessed it – Tokyo’s Meguro neighborhood. One part of the complex features an old, 100-step staircase, that is the only remaining part of the original 1931 hotel before it had to be torn down and rebuilt to accommodate riverfront development. The staircase has various rooms branching off in which special exhibits are held. This year, the Hina exhibit focused on dolls from the Tohoku region (northern Japan) and even featured a set of dolls recovered from the debris following the tsunami.
Meguro Gajoen can be reached on the JR Yamanote line or the Namboku metro line.
**No photos are allowed of the dolls inside Meguro Gajoen so the above photo is of a century-old set of dolls in Konosu’s Hina Doll Village (see below).
3. Konosu Town (Saitama)
This town’s Hina doll displays are in a rather unique pyramid shape, and the main exhibit – which is in the shopping complex immediately outside the JR station – is a doll pyramid of at least 20 or 30 tiers. There are also several other sights around town that feature more significant doll displays, among them being Hina no Sato (Doll Village) with a number of old (Edo, Taisho and Showa era) dolls.
Konosu can be reached in around 60 minutes on a JR Shonan-Shinjuku train from Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ebisu and even Yokohama stations. If you time it right, some run with no connections.
4. Makabe Town (Ibaraki)
Eleven months of the year, the tiny township of Makabe (now part of the larger Sakuragawa town) is a sleepy destination. But for a month in February and March, over 160 homes, stores and restaurants open their doors to the visiting public to showcase their beautiful Hina dolls. I visited this past week and spent a solid four hours exploring the center of town and still didn’t see all of the displays.
Makabe is incredibly difficult to reach without a car but from February 22 – March 3 every year, they run a shuttle bus from (somewhat) nearby Tsukuba station to the doll district in Makabe.
These are the festivals I have personally been to this year but honorable mentions go to Katsuura (Chiba Prefecture) and Inatori Onsen (Shizuoka Prefecture) for their unique displays and ability to be reached in a day trip from Tokyo.
My all-time favorite Hina doll festival will always be in Yanagawa (Fukuoka Prefecture). Does anyone have any others to recommend?