Dolls in the mist - an outdoors display of hina dolls by the roadside in Katsuura.
The Big Hina Matsuri is one of Tokushima’s most famous yearly festivals. And while the spotlight sits squarely on the thousands of dolls on display at the Ningyo Bunka Kouryuu-kan, it isn’t the only way for you to enjoy this festive time of year. Katsuura is a town known for the hina dolls, and travellers further down the road can enjoy an even rarer and more interesting sight in the form of the inner hina matsuri (奥座敷 – oku zashiki）.
Almost seven kilometres down the road from the Ningyo Bunka Kouryuu-kan, the residents of Sakamoto enjoy a different form of hina matsuri. Proudly displayed on long stands and cases by the streets are hundreds of hina dolls both new and old, mixed amongst flowers and bamboo in a myriad of different, home-grown displays.
This is the home of the inner hina matsuri. Started almost four years ago, the displays are less a large collection of dolls than staggered, separate displays through the streets of the town. Almost every store and house front has something to show, and there is a lot for visitors to see.
The Main Stage
Almost every street in the area is a part of the inner hina matsuri, but the main stage is located in the private garden of the Morimoto family. Found a little further down the road from most of the displays, visitors head down a steep path to a large traditional Japanese house where the displays are held.
The sign by the roadside showing the way down the hillside to the Morimoto family residence.
Walking through the old wooden gates to the residence and away from the sounds of the modern world, you feel as though you have come across a real treasure. The displays of the Morimoto residence are like something you would expect to see in a tourist guide extolling the wonders of traditional crafts in Japan, and amongst them you can see a whole history of hina dolls from over a hundred years ago to the modern day.
A small selection of older dolls in one of the simpler displays of the Morimoto residence.
But amongst the many indoors and outdoors displays, perhaps the most striking sight can be found in a large Japanese style tatami room deep in the residence. Taking off your shoes and going inside, you are greeted with the sight of hina dolls playing the koto, enjoying a game of karuta, and even having a picnic with yusanbako. Every inch of the room exudes an aura of traditional Japan and the undeniable presence of authenticity.
One of the elegant doll displays at the Morimoto residence.
But while the residence is open to visitors, visitors need to remember that it is still a private home and that it requires the same respect as would be given to any such place. Shoes are to be taken off when going inside tatami rooms, and some areas are naturally out of bounds. However, the displays don’t leave anything to be desired, and it is very clear as to where visitors are and aren’t allowed.
Last of all, one big difference from the Big Hina Matsuri is that it is entirely free to see the displays at the inner hina matsuri and the Morimoto residence. However, you may want to donate a few hundred yen to the residence in the box provided to help support their activities. Of course, it is entirely up to you.
NB: The official period for the inner hina matsuri is the same as the big hina matsuri, from around late February to late March each year.
The title ‘inner’ prompts the question of exactly just how far deep into Katsuura you have to go. Once you reach the Ningyo Bunka Kouryuukan where the Big Hina Matsuri is taking place, you need to keep going seven kilometres down the road. Just before you enter the Shin Sakamoto Tunnel (新坂本トンネル) you will see a small road heading off to the right, and a banner in Japanese to lead you in the right direction. Hop on this and follow the winding track around until you see displays along the roadside, and you’re there.
If you do happen to miss the turnoff, however, don’t worry. Just stay on the road, go through the tunnel just up ahead and then take the first right after you get out. This will lead you up into the hillsides and then back around on track from the opposite direction.
For those using public transport, simply take the bus on the Katsuura Line (勝浦線) and get off at stops between Kubo no Uchi (久保の内) and Sakamoto Kami (坂本上) and go for a walk in the streets. At around 76 minutes and 960 yen from Tokushima Station, it is a long ride, but well worth the trip.