Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Japanese Toy Story

I took the Yamanote line and got off at Harajuku. On one side of the station is where all the action is and where you can find the latest in Japanese pop culture. But on this day, I decided to take a walk to the far side of the station, to the entrance of the Meiji Shrine. The shrine is located in the middle of a forest that is connected to Yoyogi park.  I find it amazing that there is this forest in the middle of a metropolitan city!

There was a special event at Meiji Shrine called "Doll Thanksgiving Day". When people want to get rid of their dolls, rather than throw them away, they bring them here to be enshrined and disposed of in a proper and respectful fashion. It was estimated that there were about 40,000 dolls there that day.

I was really touched by the care and respect in which the workers received and handled the dolls. They wore white gloves, masks, and robes. I watched as one worker received some dolls from an old lady. He reached out with both hands to take them, bowed and very kindly and sincerely thanked her for bringing them here.  When he asked her about the dolls, she said that they had been with her for 50 years but it was time to let them go. It was a little sad.  He took the dolls and put them on a display next to the other dolls.

Japanese people have a different way of looking at dolls. I think part of it is linked to the concept of animism in Japanese culture that stems from the Shinto religion.  Animism is the belief that spirits and gods exist in objects and in nature. Thus, it is an ancient belief that dolls posses souls.

The ceremonies at the shrine are to purify and bless the dolls. People write messages of gratitude and attach them to the dolls when they bring them. This is supposed to bring peace and tranquility to the souls of the dolls. The owners bid farewell, the souls are released, and the dolls return to a state of just being material objects.

When I looked at the dolls, I could imagine that they had brought so much happiness to so many people over many years. It was touching to see them all on display so nicely, a place that I thought even Woody and Buzz Lightyear wouldn't mind being.

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