Nyngyo Kanshasai: Dolls and Toys – here’s a festival for anyone who has ever wondered what happens to soft toys and beloved dolls after they’ve rendered years of devotion to children… 

Japan has a long tradition of festivals, or matsuri, that are an integral part of the culture. Most are very regional and specific, and some are just plain strange: Crying Sumo (where sumo wrestlers hold babies until one cries the loudest), Naked Festivals (with sake-fueled men decked out in loincloths), Belly Button Festival (stomachs painted and faces hidden), and perhaps the most infamous one, featuring metallic male genitalia.

Apparently this is just the tip of the iceberg, as Japan as a plethora of other peculiar festivals, including one happening this weekend at Meiji Shrine: the Nyngyo Kanshasai festival, a festival to thank dolls. This particular festival takes place every year at the Meiji Jingu shrine. All kinds of dolls (Western and Japanese) are collected from children’s families after they are no longer needed, displayed for a while and then given a thank you for their years of loyalty – and sent off to the spirit world…

In Japanese culture, there is a custom that values the belief that a soul dwells in dolls and other toys. It lives on in the hearts of people still today. Instead of simply abandoning those dolls, they receive a blessing, expressing the gratitude of their owners. Last year, 48,000 dolls and soft toys underwent this purgatory. No word on where the toys end up afterwards (my soul refuses to imagine soft toy versions of Hello Kitty in the bin), but hopefully a charity organization collects some of them.

For a price tag of ¥3000 per bagful (no glass cases or batteries), you can bring your own devoted companions from 9am to hand them over to another world. You can also view a dance performance in honour of the dolls.

Nyngyo Kanshasai (official website here, Japanese only)

When: Sunday October 14th, 9:00-15:00

Where: Meiji Shrine (see map)

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