On October 2, I attended a ceremony at one of Japan’s important and well-known Buddhist temples: Osu Kannon, in Nagoya. The ceremony is called ningyo kuyo, performed to pray for dolls (many of which are bought and used for various festivals and holidays), and express gratitude for providing their owners with pleasant times and nice memories. The ceremony also functions to release the dolls from the owners by way of fire. It’s even said that many believe dolls have or acquire souls that need to be released when the owners no longer want to keep them.
The ceremony was extremely moving. I became especially emotional after the main chanting portion was over, when the monks left the altar to bless the hordes of dolls stashed away in two large tents. There were some purple-clad women sitting on chairs by the altar with its one strong flame flanked by a few dolls, and sang and played a tiny musical instrument. I don’t know what they were singing, but it was lovely and haunting and so beautiful I was sure they were ensuring the dolls a safe passage onto the next phase of their existence.
I’m not sure if dolls have souls or not. But I learned that showing respect for and honouring the things you have used and that have provided for you in this life is immeasurably important and worthwhile. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have witnessed this, to confront a ritual that allows me to see – right in front of me, and by way of the camera’s eye on things – a way of life, a perspective on being.
Here are some photos of the ceremony. I hope they capture some of the ethereal magic I witnessed that day. To see more, please check out my album here.
*p.s. I’ve now written this up for elephant journal, after a kind reader found my photos on smugmug. Here’s the link!