My daughter, having a little girl's predilection for princesses, turns out to be an excellent spotter of kids in kimono.

"Look Mama, another one!" she whispers to me and my friend Elaine excitedly, as we make our way down the back alleys of Yanagawa, a canal town in southern Fukuoka Prefecture. A young girl clips by on her traditional geta (wooden sandals), clinging to her mother's hand. We spot another one as we round the corner, dressed in an elegant red kimono.

"Princesses" clad all in scarlet are thick on the ground as we turn onto the main quay, as are spectators gathering for the city's annual parade of living dolls. While some communities celebrate Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival) in March with a few displays of traditional dolls, Yanagawa elevates the holiday to a living art.