Ohajiki is a traditional game enjoyed by Japanese children, especially girls. Its name comes from the flicking (“hajiku” in Japanese) of fingers that is done to ohajiki (flat glass marbles) with a diameter of about 12 mm.
The game dates back to the Nara period (710-794), when it was introduced from China. In those days pebbles were used to play, and the game was called “Ishi-hajiki (stone flicking).” It was mainly enjoyed among the nobility at the Imperial court. It was in the Edo period (1603-1868) when the game began to be played by girls. In the late Meiji period (1868-1912), glass marbles appeared.
To play the game, players scatter the ohajiki on a flat surface and then take turns hitting one piece against another with the flick of a finger. If a player is successful, she can get the other player’s ohajiki. The player with the most pieces wins. Ohajiki marbles are cute-looking stuff and the game is enjoyable even for adults.
Taue Odori (the rice planting dance) handed down in Akiu Town in Taihaku-ku, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a traditional folk performing art that is nationally designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property. It is said that the dance dates back to the 12th century, when the Heike refugees, who settled in the Nagafukuro area, began the dance to recall the good old days.
This rice planting dance is danced by a large number of dancers. It is said that as many as from 50 to 60 dancers or over 100 at peak time joined the dance in the past. The dances are dedicated to Nagafukuro Myojin Shrine, Baba Otaki Fudo-do Temple and Yumoto Yakushi-do Temple from the middle of April to the beginning of May every year.
Two boys taking a part of “Yajuro” appear on the stage followed by the two young boys taking a part of “Suzufuri (the bell men)” and give the prologue, after which the rice planting dance is performed by 8 to 14 girl dancers called “Saotome” in hope for a rich harvest in the coming fall.
On March 3 each year, Hina Matsuri, or Girl's Day, is held at home to pray for the growth and happiness of daughters.
Hina Matsuri is one of five seasonal festivals in Japan and the origin of the festival is as a purification ceremony held in March.
In Japan, dolls were used to drive evil spirits out and this custom came to be connected with toy dolls used in 'Hina Plays'. The hina dolls were decorated and became the basis for the Hina Matsuri.
Lozenge-shaped rice cakes are one of the offerings made at the festival. One of the base ingredients, mugwort, is supposed to remove negative energies. White sake is offered, too, and is supposed to purify the body. A clam is also offered to pray for a good match for the girl who will fit like two parts of a shell. Many other lucky things are offered to pray for the girl's growth.
Hakota dolls are traditional papier-mache dolls with a history of 300 years. They are made in Kurayoshi, Tottori Prefecture. Such a limbless cylindrical type of papier-mache doll, similar to a kokeshi doll, is rare in this country, and it is made only in Kurayoshi in the Sannin area.
Hakota doll-making started sometime between 1781 and 1789 (Tenmei period). A peddlar from Bingo (today's Hiroshima Prefecture), whose name was Bingoya Jihei, created the first Hakota doll. He made it because he was moved by the naivety of the girls he met in this area.
Until the early Showa period, these dolls were called 'Ha-ko-san', and were a familiar toy for little girls. Also, these dolls were made as bringers of good luck; a prayer for a child to grow up free from injury and illness.
You can make and decorate your own Hakota doll at Bingoya (the 6th), which continues to this day. What will your 'Ha-ko-san' look like?
Nobuko Akiyama was born in 1928. Her real name is Nobuko Imai, while Nobuko Akiyama is her working name. She was designated a Living National Treasure for her 'costume dolls'.
In 1956, she studied under Obayashi Sono, a dollmaker. At this time, she absorbed the ways to work with traditional materials and techniques of dollmaking such as 'tuso' (a mixture of clay and paulownia), 'gluing with paper' and 'graining'. The costumes for her dolls are made with cloth from traditional late-Edo and early-Showa kimonos. In addition, the posture of her dolls can be freely adjusted.
The sophistication of the dolls and their costumes could only be possible because of the traditional materials she uses and her highly-trained skills. The character of the dollmaker appears in the dolls they make. Akiyama's dolls somehow have a 'warmth' as well as style.