The Sankei Shimbun, JAPAN Forward

It was March 3 at Awashima Shrine, just off the coast in Wakayama Prefecture.

Hundreds of delicate female-shaped dolls, in typical Heian costume, were hoisted onto a row boat and pulled out at sea. Perhaps, even without understanding much of the proceedings, it was enough to feed the thoughts of poets and writers with its slightly melancholy twinge.

This yearly occurrence is called “Hina Nagashi,” which roughly translates as “Floating Princess.”

Many might be familiar with the tradition of families displaying the elegant dolls on red-carpeted steps in their homes to wish for the well-being of young girls in the family. It seems simple enough — bring the doll out during a certain period for good luck, then put it away again. In a way, it’s a bit similar to how Westerners treat Christmas decorations, for example.

The “Hina Nagashi” tradition has deeper roots still. Historically, it was believed that dolls had the power to control bad omens and spirits. Therefore, an ancient tradition was to take cutouts of paper dolls, and let them float down the river. Just like the river’s flow gushing away, the dolls would take away with them the bad omens and demons, leaving behind only the good health of the family.

This tradition has disappeared from many locations, but in some places the practice still endures. One such place is Awashima.

By - Ben K.