Similar colours, but considerably different lifestyles.
A little over four years ago I took this photo of an old lady stood at the door of her wonderfully ramshackle Tokyo home. It has been a favourite of mine ever since, and it’s an image that has appeared in and on numerous publications and websites. Of course selling photos is always nice, but that’s not why I like it so much. The reason, I think, is because it encompasses everything I find fascinating about old Tokyo — pretty much condensing all its people and places into one single image.
On a Photowalk Tour last weekend, however, I passed by for the first time in a while. And there, on the corner, was the same house. But now it’s no longer a home — just a stripped bare empty building. A sight that needless to say was terribly sad to say the least.
Dolls sometimes have a very visible role in Japanese culture, such as on Girls’ Day (Hinamatsuri), when they are shown both at home, and in public. There are the far more common kokeshi too. So, with this in mind, it’s perhaps not surprising that they are considered more important than other toys or ornaments. Similarly, after being a treasured companion during a child’s upbringing, or on display in the home for many years, simply throwing them away when they aren’t wanted anymore is hard for a lot of people to do. They are reminders of the past, and for some, the dolls are also thought to contain memories, or even have souls.
Hence then the popularity of ningyo kanshasai, which are performed at Shinto shrines, and ningyo kuyo at Buddhist temples — ceremonies that purify the dolls, as well as allowing the owners to say a final thank you and goodbye.
At a recent ningyo kanshasai held at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, this meant a huge amount of departing dolls were carefully put on display before being disposed of.
A staggering array of figures that was intriguing, and at the same time, more than a little unsettling.