Tiny and gargantuan Hina dolls displayed in Tokyo


An annual exhibition of antique Hina dolls began Friday at Tokyo’s Hyakudan Kaidan exhibition hall, bringing together about 500 specimens, including those believed to be the largest and smallest of the vintage dolls depicting the Imperial court.

The sixth such exhibition at Hyakudan Kaidan, a Tokyo Metropolitan Government-designated tangible cultural asset in the Meguro Gajoen banquet hall complex, features dolls from the prefectures facing the Seto Inland Sea: Hyogo, Okayama and Hiroshima. The event will run through March 8 and is expected to attract some 60,000 visitors.

According to Meguro Gajoen officials, the largest dolls, called Kyohobina, from a museum belonging to the Nozaki family, a long-established salt maker in Okayama, are 80 cm tall — more than three times the average height and roughly the size of a 4-year-old Japanese girl.

On the other side of the spectrum, dolls no taller than 7 cm made by prominent Kyoto craftsman Heizo Oki are believed to be the smallest of all vintage hina dolls that come with eyeballs, an official said. Those are owned by Hyogo Prefecture’s Tatsuma family, the founder of major sake maker Tatsuma-Honke Brewing Co.

The exhibition also features Gotenbina dolls displayed in a miniature model of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Such displays were popular among wealthy families in the late Meiji to Taisho eras some 100 years ago.

One set of Gotenbina dolls is said to have been equal in value at the time to a small house, an official from the Japan Toy Museum said.

“These antique hina dolls survived wars and disasters,” including World War II and the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, said Kei Yunoki, director of Business Planning Department at K.K. Meguro Gajoen. “I feel it’s a wonderful opportunity to display them here,” he added.

Keiko Inoue, an exhibitor from Hiroshima who has been collecting hina dolls for over 30 years was ecstatic.

“My dolls look so happy and proud displayed here and seen by many people,” she said. “I hope that visitors will see the dolls’ strength in their eyes.”