Shimogamo shrine’s Nagashi-bina

Banner of the festival “Kyo no Nagashi Bina”This Saturday, March 3, was the famous Hina Matsuri, also known as Girl’s Day. As explained on this page about this Japanese special day, the Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto still celebrates the old custom of releasing hina dolls down a water stream in order to let float one’s misfortune and bad spirits away.

The main event starts at 11:00 in the morning, but it is advised to come as early as 9:30 to have a good spot, as hundreds of people, both Japanese and tourists come there every year to see this ancient tradition.

When passing the shrine’s gate, a line of people waiting to buy straw baskets with hina dolls inside. The smaller ones is meant for children, while the bigger ones are for adults.

People waiting to buy a straw basket with hina dolls

Before the main event starts, it is possible to take a commemorative picture next to the hina dan. Once that is done, you can see how shrine maiden dress the woman who will take the role of Ohina-sama, the Empress. Even if you came too late to see the main event from one of the front row spots, I highly recommend watching the kimono dressing, a unique experience!

Ohina-sama dressed as a shrine maiden
Ohina-sama getting dressed by shrine maidens

First, Ohina-sama comes in dressed in white and red as a Miko, or shrine maiden. Two other shrine maiden, dressed in white and an unconventional dark blue then start to dress Ohina-sama, cloth by cloth. This tedious task results in a magnificent kimono dress of about 10 layers, which can add up to a weight of about 10Kg (22lbs)!

The center of the kimono shows how meticulous this task is, with its beautiful gradient of white, slowly turning into a soft purple color.

The center of the kimono has many layers, which make for a beautiful gradient

Once both Ohina-sama, the Empress, and Odairi-sama, the Emperor, have been dressed up, they come forth and take a seat before the ceremony begins.

Ohina-sama and Odairi-sama seated
Ohina-sama and Odairi-sama looking at each other

One of the priestesses starts to purify the other priests, Ohina-sama and Odairi-sama, the special attendants as well as the general public.

A priestess reciting a Shinto prayer
The priestess purifying the other priests
The priestess purifying Ohina-sama and Odairi-sama
Purification of the special attendants
The priestess coming forth to purify the onlookers

The high priest will receive a one of the straw baskets by one of the priestesses, and then proceed to let it float slowly away.

The high priest receiving the straw basket with hina dolls from the priestess
The high priest praying after releasing the hina dolls

After that, it’s Ohina-sama and Odairi-sama‘s turn to let the dolls float away. Ohina-sama is helped by two shrine maiden due to how cumbersome her dress is. Both walk slowly down the stairs toward the streamlet, where they sit down before releasing their hina dolls.

Odairi-sama and Ohina-sama walk slowly to the streamlet
They release the straw basket containing the hina dolls carefully
Two straw basket containing hina dolls slowly floating away
The Imperial couple goes back to their seats
The two Miko help walk Ohina-sama back with her heavy dress

Next up are two Maiko. These young girls are Geisha in training.

Two Maiko walk by, hina dolls at hands

They start by bowing, and proceed to release their dolls too.

Maiko bowing to the Imperial couple
The two Maiko walk carefully down the stairs
Maiko make themselves ready to release the dolls
They put the hina dolls carefully onto the streamlet
And the Maiko finally pray while the hina dolls slowly float away
A shot of the Maiko’s golden Obi

After that come important community members, politicians, as well as a selected pair of kindergartners, let their own dolls float down the streamlet.

Important persons release the dolls
Another couple of important persons set the dolls afloat
Finally a couple of kindergartners, followed by their teachers let go of the straw baskets

Of course, the Nagashibina wouldn’t be complete without a pair of Kyoto Image Characters. Tawawa-chan, the girly mascot for the Kyoto Tower and Yoroi Kotaro, the mascot of Boy’s Celebration Day came in with their own straw basket, which they dropped down on the water.

Tawawa-chan ready to drop the dolls
Tawawa-chan let go of the hina dolls
Now it’s Yoroi Kotaro’s turn to put the dolls afloat
Yoroi Kotaro releases the straw baskets from above
And the hina dolls fall beautifully into the water
Yoroi Kotaru saying goodbye to everyone
It’s hard to walk up the stairs when you’re an Image Character!

At the end, a group of selected kindergartners go in front of Ohina-sama and Odairi-sama to sing somewhat traditional songs.

Kindergartners prepare to sing

Once they are done, everyone can go and let their own hina dolls float down the Mitarashi-ike streamlet, letting all your misfortune and bad spirits go away.

Two hina straw basket, with the adult one on the left, and the one for children on the right

Trees have started to bloom

The warmth of spring has finally come after the last few weeks of cold. This weekend has been especially warm here in Kyoto with temperatures rising up to 21 degrees Celcius (70F)!

Blooming Japanese plum Ume trees
A lone Japanese plum tree in the Imperial Gardens

As to be expected with such a gentle temperature, the Imperial Palace of Kyoto has seen different buds open and bloom beautifully. Trees such as the  Japanese allspice, also known as wintersweet, as well as the Japanese Plum trees Ume were the first to flourish.

Japanese allspice’s blooming flowers

Both the Japanese allspice and Ume trees produce a wonderful fragrance, not only within the park but also around it. A delicious scent of spring can be smelled before even entering the park. This peculiar smell is the result of the many plants and trees within the park turning green and flourishing again after the cold. This aroma changes when a new tree starts to bloom, giving you another reason to go and wander around the Imperial Palace once again.

Japanese plum tree buds
Plum tree starting to bloom
White plum tree’s buds
White plum fully bloomed

As for now, the sakura trees will start to bloom around March 21, together with the peach trees Momo no ki. But at that time, you will definitely be able to enjoy the beautiful pink cherry blossom all around Kyoto!

Japanese allspice