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Wakayama, Japan

Awashima Jinja

A Japanese shrine to dolls. 

Awashima jinja is a shrine for women and is famous for its enormous collection of dolls.

There are a lot of Japanese superstitions about dolls, and a good number of people in Japan seem to find them a little mysterious or frightening, believing that they have souls or the power to influence human lives. There are a number of shrines and festivals wherein people dispose of their old dolls and toys - they feel that if they just threw them in the garbage, the dolls’ souls might come back to haunt them like ghosts.

Awashima jinja is mainly for hina ningyo, dolls that are given to young girls to be displayed every year on Girl’s Day, March 3rd. The festival dates back to 1687 and is a time for praying for the health and happiness of a family’s daughters. Awashima jinja’s collection is not limited to hina ningyo, however. There are literally thousands of dolls here, and an even greater number of sculptures, figurines, carvings, and statues. You’ll find tanuki, maneki neko, daruma, frogs, yoshitsune, shichi fukujin, and many more.

Every year on March 3rd, Awashima jinja is home to a doll festival called nagashi bina, in which boatloads of hina ningyo are launched into the ocean. As the boats are rocked by the waves, the dolls fall overboard and sink into the ocean. It is believed that the dolls will take away the sicknesses and bad luck afflicting their former owners, and the ritual has become very popular.

Know Before You Go

118 Kada, Wakayama. Getting There By train: Take the Nankai express from Namba station (61 minutes). Get off at Wakayama station, and change trains to the local bound for Kato (28 minutes). The fare is 930 yen. Twenty minutes walk from the station.