floating dolls

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For Hinamatsuri, we found a nagashibina event to attend in Ibaraki.  For the annual ‘Doll Festival’ or ‘Girls Day’ in Japan on March 3rd, traditional dolls are set out on display in Japanese homes and lots of Japanese museums, schools, and other public places.  

Way back in the day, people used to make straw or fabric dolls as vessels to carry any future misfortunes that might befall their children, and they sent them down a river on rafts, to carry the misfortunes away.  Somewhere down the line, the tradition evolved into owning sets of nicely crafted dolls to display and to offer good luck to daughters in the home, and some towns still floated the dolls as a symbolic ceremony, but retrieved them at the end since they were of such high quality.

I found a garden called Kairakuen in Ibaraki that does a small nagashibina ceremony during their ume blossom festival, and was very excited to witness the tradition firsthand.  It was quite far from Tokyo, but doable in a day, and I was so glad we were able to make it.  The dolls and boats they floated them in were so beautiful, and they even gave out little tiny boats for the audience members to float after the main dolls were set out.  Afterward we explored the rest of the garden, which was filled with thousands of fragrant  blossoming plum trees, as well as a bamboo and cedar forest. but we’ll save that for another post.

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part two! of our ibakari adventure.  after the doll floating festival we explored the expansive grounds of the garden and enjoyed some very serene moments in a bamboo grove with tall, straight trunks reflecting tinted green light, and soft wind rustling the small top leaves.  Across the way was a cedar forest which offered different scenery and different colours, but felt no less charming and refreshing after being in Tokyo too long.  The garden is designed to have areas that are bright and lit/ coloured by sunlight, and areas that are heavily shaded by large, dense vegetation.  I’d love to return on a sunny day when the dynamics are more apparent.   

On the other side was a plum blossom festival among the thousands of peaking ume trees, and stalls selling plum blossom ice cream, mochi, manju, daifuku, wine, juice, and probably more that I didn’t see.  I of course had to try the ice cream, and was so glad I did.  It was the perfect blend of tart and sweet with a lovely aromatic touch that complimented the smell of the real blossoms on the air. The flavour actually reminded me a lot of my grandma’s raspberry sherbet she used to make every summer.

There is also a beautiful old house in the garden open for touring.  It was designed and built by a famous poet for his retreat home.  He would hold poetry and music parties and seasonal gathering here, and each room was designed differently with different types of guests in mind.  man oh man was it crowded, but the details were beautiful and I was very glad to be able to take them in.  We ended the day with hot ume honey juice and then took the train home.