March 3rd all across Japan is a special day for young girls. Some towns have a small event or gathering and such was the case with mine. I never had the chance to celebrate it in any way before and since it was taking place within walking distance of my house, I really had no excuse to miss out. The event opened with a taiko performance by the group that I am a part of, but because I have been so busy for the last several weekends and completely unable to attended any of the recent practices, I was unaware of it until the day before when I saw the flyer. When Soeng and I tactfully showed up after their set, I feigned ignorance but did assist with their cleanup.
The community center, located right along the river
Quite a number of my students were there, and with most of them being of elementary age and below they were all quite happy to talk and play with me. There was one in particular that was unrelenting in her need for me to pick her up and twirl her around. Soeng and I also enjoyed some small pizzas that were cooked up on site in a brick oven. As we ate and mingled with the community folks, we were also graced by the soothing sounds of a keytar crossed with an oboe.
The main gathering space and performance area.
After a little bit, we left the small yard to check out the inside of the community center. The building was once the Yasuhara Kindergarten and is now used for these sorts of events. Inside was an arrangement of dolls that are synonymous with this festival. I tried to ask about the meaning of them specifically, but no one was able to give me anything much for answers. They spent way too long chasing down an elderly woman who was only able to explain just a bit more. I learned only that members of a family would often eat and drink in front of the dolls on this day and hope for the well being of the little girls.
Where their explanations fell short, I was able to consult trusty Wikipedia for the rest. Apparently the practice of arranging dolls stretches back over 1000 years to the Heian Period. For this festival in particual, the arrangement is meant to represent the royal court, including the emperor, empress, musicians, and other attendants in the traditional dress of the day. It has long been believed that dolls are able to contain bad spirits, so displaying them in this manner keeps the spirits from roaming free and causing harm. The roots of the festival seem to come from another in which dolls placed on small boats were floated down a river to take the bad spirits away from children. I find it quite interesting to know why people act out on what they believe and what significance traditions like these have. If I made no effort to understand the event beyond it being dolls on steps, I would not be learning anything really. As a bonus informational tidbit, the decorations are always cleaned up by the end of the next day, since failure to do so is believed to cause the girls a late marriage.
In addition to hosting these sorts of small gatherings, the kindergaten has also been re-purposed as a museum of old farming and processing equipment as well as a bunch of tools. Some of it was more interesting than other bits, but it was at least worth the walk through to see it. I can’t imagine any situation in which I would feel the need to go back to see it again though, once was quite enough. After we finished our tour, we reemerged outside to the delightful sounds of old women playing dulcimers and the warm sunlight.
These are some serious saws
After having a bit more playtime with some children and checking out the assortment of produce and handicrafts for sale, we decided to walk back home to get on with our day. It was a great chance to be active in the community and also to get some major brownie points for doing my job off the clock. As I mentioned, other towns may celebrate this day in a more grandiose way, but this fit the bill perfectly for such a lazy weekend morning.