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.
Typhoon Jebi may well have been on its way, but this man simply wasn’t going to miss Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine.
When February 11th (National Foundation Day) rolls round, I always feel compelled to go and photograph the same group of nationalists who gather at Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine. Exactly why I feel the need to go I don’t know. Photographically, I’ll likely never get the snow that helped create my best shot there back in 2011. Plus when it comes to politics, I find everything the nationalists stand for utterly repugnant.
And yet still I go.
Perhaps it’s simply the spectacle. Their brief, but dramatic appearance is certainly like nothing else I’ve ever seen in Japan. Or indeed any other country for that matter. There’s also the challenge I suppose, as it puts me in the uncomfortable position of having to stand right in front of a bunch of people who have little time for me, and even less for my political leanings. It may even be the fact that despite our differences, it’s hard not to feel at least a grudging respect, as regardless of their faults, they always tone down the rhetoric and solemnly pray for the souls of Japan’s fallen men and women.
Anyway, whatever the reason, or indeed reasons, below are a few of the images I came away with this year. For anyone interested, there’s also a broader selection of nationalist photos on my portfolio site, here.