Today I visited Meiji Jingu to attend one of the stranger rituals I have seen in Japan: the Doll Appreciation Ceremony (oningyo kanshasai,お人形感謝祭). This ceremony takes place once a year under the sponsorship of the Doll Appreciation Society, and is held to venerate those dolls that are being passed out of use. The information we received when we entered the shrine told us that many Japanese people believe that dolls have souls, and that many shrines hold ceremonies to venerate or consecrate dolls when they are thrown out. The basic process is you bring your dolls (as many as you want) in a plastic bag, and get charged 3000 yen (about $US30) per bag. You are given a doll-shaped piece of paper to write a message on, and then the priests very carefully arrange the dolls within the shrine precinct. Once the viewing period is over, the good wishes you wrote on the piece of paper are incorporated into a ritual of consecration, and then the dolls pass on. It’s not clear what happens, but I’m guessing they go into landfill. But appropriately consecrated.
This is a very sweet idea for a ceremony, and very well attended by people of all ages and descriptions. The dolls were arranged carefully in the eaves of the inner wall of the Meiji Jingu main compound, and there were so many by 2pm today that they took up two whole sides of the compound (which is not small). Interestingly, the shrine workers laid them out very carefully and respectfully, with that careful attention to detail that Japanese people always apply to any task that they consider responsible for.
They also arranged the dolls in related categories as much as they could. There were whole sections full of Disney characters, a huge swathe of hinamatsuri dolls, squads of Doraemons and Winnie the Poohs, and of course lots of animals. Even toy soldiers and lizard souvenirs from museums were on display.
I think one year a group of war-gamers should get together all their old and unwanted warhammer figures and bring them along. Then they could watch as the shrine workers meticulously laid out huge armies of skaven and undead, knowing that after years of war and struggle those exhausted soldiers would be vouch-safed eternal rest, protected in the bosom of Japan’s 8 million gods: surely a worthy end for every war-gamer’s most dedicated heroes!