The Edo Nagashi-bina at the Sumida River



2021.03.04 (Thu)

By Charlotte, long-term Tokyo resident & history-loving traveler

In Japan, the traditional event called Hinamatsuri is held on March 3rd.
On this day, ornamental dolls called hina-ningyo of a male-female pair in traditional court dress are displayed, as people pray for the healthy growth of children.
Splendid sets have platforms with multiple stairs so that other dolls and decorations can be displayed in addition to the male-female pair placed at the top stairs.
It is generally an event for girls, and many households with a female child have a hina-ningyo set for their girl.

The origin of the hina-ningyo was a piece of paper shaped in the form of a person. During the Heian period, there was a practice of yakubarai, which involved transferring your impurities onto a piece of paper shaped in the form of a person by blowing on it and then releasing this piece of paper in the water to drive off evil spirits. Later, small dolls with faces drawn on them came to be displayed indoors. This then developed into the celebration of Hinamatsuri as we know it now, as people display beautiful dolls and pray for the health of children.

The practices from back when dolls were released in the water still remain to this day in various places in Japan. The Edo Nagashi-bina, which is held at the Sumida River on the Sunday closest to March 3rd every year, is an example of this. A group to promote the nagashi-bina festival, which is seen as a customary event that signals the arrival of spring to the Sumida River, was started in 1986. It is said that close to 3,000 people participate, whether they are actually releasing nagashi-bina or just watching. Participants write down the names of their children and their wishes on the paper nagashi-bina dolls that have been purified at Imado Shrine in Asakusa and release them in the river all at once. The scenery of colorful hina-ningyo covering the surface of the Sumida River and flowing gently amid the waves is very beautiful and elegant.
*This year's event was canceled in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections.

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