Ningyo kuyo: A Japanese doll funeral

Dolls feature fairly prominently in Japanese culture, from the ornamental hina ningyo of Girls’ Day (Hinamatsuri), to kokeshi, a popular souvenir. An importance that, along with the kanji for doll literally meaning ‘human form’, means they are very often treated differently than regular toys or ornaments.

Being a part of the family for years, as well as an integral element of a child’s upbringing, it is thought by some that dolls hold memories, or even have souls. As such, disposing of them can be very difficult, with many people feeling incapable of simply throwing them away — even believing there’ll be spiritual repercussions of some sort if they do. So ceremonies like ningyo kuyo — a kind of doll funeral — help owners say goodbye in a more dignified way. Prayers will be said. The dolls will be purified. And then the shrine or temple will deal with the disposal.

An event that makes for a slightly odd sight, as thousands of old companions and former family treasures are brought, displayed one last time, and then rather touchingly said goodbye to.

Ningyo kuyo a Japanese doll funeral

A typhoon battered higanbana, Japan’s flower of death

After months of unrelenting control, summer’s horribly clammy fingers are finally beginning to lose their grip on the capital’s climate. Not that it’s currently all that obvious, as the temperatures are still high and the humidity very similar, but the arrival of the late summer/early autumn flowering higanbana (red spider lily), does at least confirm it.

Known as the flower of death, the higanbana is a beautiful, slightly otherworldly sight, that easily lives up to references in its name to, ‘the other shore’.

Poisonous to rodents and other wild animals, they were often planted in and around graveyards during Japan’s pre-cremation days to stop the dead being eaten. Plus their bright colours are said to guide souls into the afterlife, which one would assume explains their use at funerals.

Yet while in many ways representing death, they are nonetheless very resilient to it, as despite being battered by typhoon Man-yi yesterday, this particular flower is still alive, well and just as wondrous.

higanbana, flower of death