Japanese Dolls

Dolls that became a major part of an annual event at home

The most familiar doll for Japanese is Hina Ningyo (ornamental dolls for Girls’ Day) and Gogatsu Ningyo (ornamental dolls for Boys’ Day). Most families with girls display Hina Ningyo dolls for Girls’ Day or Hina Matsuri (doll festival) on March 3rd praying for the daughters’ healthy growth and happiness. They are usually arranged on a three to five-tiered platform.

At the top are the Emperor and Empress dolls called Dairi-bina and their thirteen servants are arranged on the rest of tiers. On Boys’ Day which is observed on May 5th, families pray for the sons’ good health and success. May 5th is a national holiday called Children’s Day. Warrior dolls, miniature armor and/or warrior helmet are displayed for Boys’ Day. The dolls are called Gogatsu Ningyo which literally means May Dolls as they are displayed in May.

Togyoku Doll Museum

3-2, Honcho, Iwatsuki-ku, Saitama-city, Saitama
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Closed: The year-end through the New Year period, days for preparations, Mondays from May to September, Bon holidays
*Closed for preparations from December 26 to January 6
Admission : Adults: 300 yen (Group: 250 yen), Junior or High school students: 100 yen, Children of elementary school age and under: free, Sixty five and over: 100 yen

Access : Take the JR Keihin Tohoku Line or Shonan Shinjuku Line from Tokyo Station to Omiya Station and take the Tobu Noda Line to Iwatsuki Station. It is about a 1 minute walk from the station. (Time required: about 1 hour)

Hina Nagashi

In some regions an event called Hina Nagashi is held every spring. Paper doll called Katashiro in the shape of human being is rubbed against one’s body in a gesture of giving the doll illness and misfortune that one may have or receive in the future, and then the doll is thrown into the sea or a river praying for good health and happiness. It is said to be the roots of Hina Matsuri (doll festival).

Nagashibina-no-sato Mochigase (Mochigase Society of Commerce and Industry home page)

Access : Take a bullet train from Tokyo Station to Okayama Station. Take the Super Inaba #5 and transfer to the JR Inbi Line at Chizu Station, and get off at Mochigase Station. (Time required: about 5 hours 40 minutes)

Japanese doll as popular souvenir

Smaller dolls are highly popular as a souvenir from Japan. Wooden Kokeshi doll has unique figure with a round head on a long cylindrical body. It was originally a girls’ toy. But the rich variety of its designs and shapes was revaluated and it has become an ornamental doll for adults to enjoy. Many souvenir shops that have Kokeshi dolls are found on the Nakamise shopping street in Asakusa, Tokyo. As it is small and light and is priced around 1,000 yen, it is suitable for souvenir.

Hakata in Fukuoka, the largest business city in Kyushu region, has one of the Japanese traditional art crafts Hakata Ningyo (Hakata doll). Hakata doll is an unglazed clay doll painted with earth pigments. The features of Hakata doll are its white skin which is smooth and beautiful and the warm colors of earth pigments. Hakata doll is the Japanese typical clay doll which is even exported overseas.

Tsugaru Kokeshi Hall

72-1, Toyama, Fukuroaza, Kuroishi-city, Aomori
9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. 
Open year-round (From December to March :closed at 4:00 p.m.)
Admission:1st floor free , 2nd floor adults:300yen, High school students:250yen, Junior High school students or elementary school students:150yen

Access : Take a bullet train from Tokyo Station to Shin-Aomori Station which takes about 3 hours 40 minutes. Take the free shuttle bus “Kuroishi Kokeshi-go” to Tsugaru Densho Kogei Museum which takes about 70 minutes.

Hakata Traditional Craft Center

6-1, Kamikawabata-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka-city
10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
Closed:Wednesdays (Wednesday is open if it falls on a national holiday, and the day after that will be closed), December 29 – 31

Dolls as traditional culture

Dolls are not just an ornamental object or children’s toy but have been special for Japanese and they are a part of people’s life. The Chinese characters for the Japanese word Ningyo (人形) literary mean “human figure.” By likening a doll to a human being, Japanese have used a doll to get rid of misfortune thinking that it would undertake misfortune such as illness or injury for them. Also it is said that dolls have souls so that just like when a person passed away a ceremony is held at a temple or shrine to comfort the souls of the dolls when the dolls become unwanted.

Iwatsuki Ningyo Kuyo Ceremony (Iwatsuki Memorial Ceremony for Dolls)

Inside the Site of Iwatsuki Castle Park, 3-4, Ota, Iwatsuki-ku, Saitama-city, Saitama
Holidays November 3 * Rain or shine
10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.(Ceremony: 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.)

Access:Take the JR Keihin Tohoku Line or Shonan Shinjuku Line from Tokyo Station to Omiya Station and take the Tobu Noda Line to Iwatsuki Station. It is about a 23 minute walk from the station.

Ningyo Joruri, the Japanese puppet show

The culture to enjoy looking at dolls has become a sublime stage art. And that is the Ningyo Joruri puppet show, the Japanese traditional performing art. Three puppeteers manipulate a large doll making it dance to the music and perform according to the narration to unfold a story. The doll looks as if it were given life by the refined and vigorous movement. It is worth to see.

National Theatre

4-1, Hayabusa-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Date of performance, curtain time and ticket price vary by program.

Access:Take the Marunouchi Line from Tokyo Station and transfer to the Hanzomon Line at Otemachi Station, and get off at Hanzomon Station. It is about a 5 minute walk from the station. (Time required: about 17 minutes)

National Bunraku Theatre

1-12-10, Nippon-bashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka
Date of performance, curtain time and ticket price vary by program.

Access:Take a bullet train from Tokyo Station to Shin-Osaka Station. Take the Midosuji Line and transfer to the Sennichimae Line at Namba Station, and get off at Nippombashi Station. It is about a 1 minute walk from the station. (Time required: about 3 hours 10 minutes)

Dolls of today

Doll culture has changed along with the times and now it is very popular among young people in the form of figurine. Many of model figurines are that of various anime characters. It is not only copying the appearance of the character but also expressing the character’s personality and the world of the story by its facial expression and pose. “Oni-Musume (She-Devil)” which is a female character with horns on her head was made into the figurines. Horn is the feature of “Oni (ogre)” that appears in Japanese folk tales. The horns of Oni-Musume show that she is half ogre and half human female. It can be said that the special feeling that Japanese continued to have for dolls and the Japanese refined manufacturing technique bolster the popularity of figurines.


1-8-8, Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. 
Open year-round

Access:Take the JR Keihin Tohoku Line from Tokyo Station to Akihabara Station which takes about 5 minutes.
It is about a 5 minute walk from the station.


5-52-15, Nakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo Access:Take the JR Chuo Line from Tokyo Station to Nakano Station which takes about 20 minutes. It is about a 4 minute walk from the station.


“Oshira-sama” doll is said to be derived from a folk legend about a tragic love story between a beautiful girl and a horse. Male and female faces or a horse face are engraved or painted on a mulberry tree stick. Oshira-sama is worshiped mainly in the Tohoku region as a deity that protects the home. It is often placed on the shelf-like private miniature Shinto shrine. The belief in Oshira-sama is deeply rooted in people’s life especially in Tono, Iwate Prefecture. Oshira-sama is included in a Japanese folklore classic Tono Monogatari (The Legends of Tono) that contains the folk legends of Tono.

Tono Denshoen

5-1, 6 Chiwari, Tsuchibuchi, Tsuchibuchi-cho, Tono-city, Iwate
9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
Open year-round
Admission: Adults 310 yen, Elementary school or Junior & High school students: 210 yen,

Access:From Tokyo Station, go to Shin-Hanamaki changing two bullet trains. It takes about 2 hours.
Take the JR Kamaishi Line to Tono Station which takes about 1 hour. Take a Hayachinemine Bus which takes about 25 minutes and get off at the Ashiaraigawa stop. It is about a 3 minute walk from the station.