Kyoto Shimbun 2009.2.23 News

Emperor and Empress Doll Positions
Old and Modern Styles in Kyoto

The day of "Hina-matsuri," or Doll Festival, is March 3. In Kyoto, there are different ways to display "Mebina," or the empress doll, and "Obina," or the emperor doll, depending on the hina doll shop. Long-established doll shops are more likely to display the empress doll on the observers' left and the emperor doll on the right, whereas newer national chain stores tend to display them in the reverse of that. It is said that a mixture of both displays is a phenomenon peculiar to Kyoto.

The Hashimoto doll shop in Shimogyo Ward, established in the late Edo Period, displays the empress doll on the observers' left. The doll shop owner explained, "Most long-established shops set up dolls like this." On the other hand, a shopping center that was opened five years ago in Ukyo Ward displays the empress doll on the right. The person in charge said, "This is the way they are commonly displayed in our nationwide chain of stores."

Which is the proper way? The Japan Dolls Association in Tokyo explained, "Either way is acceptable." However, that does not mean there is no proper display. In general, hina dolls are called "Dairi-bina," or a pair of dolls modeled after the Emperor and Empress, based on the Imperial Court culture. Prior to the Taisho Period, the Obina was displayed on the observers' right all across the country. Furthermore, it has been said that Obina should be displayed on the east side for the sun rising, when dolls are placed at the Kyoto Imperial Palace facing the south, which is the direction of its front gate.

However, the Emperor stood to the right, or the observers' left, of the Empress in the Showa Enthronement Ceremony in 1928, and also, the Emperor, who was dressed in Western style, stood on observers' left in a picture. That seems to be why the doll industry in Tokyo has interchanged the position of the emperor and empress dolls from the pre-war period. That change has spread across the country. However, according to Kyo-ningyo Commerce-and-Industry Cooperative, long-established shops in Kyoto alone have voluntarily honored "Yusoku-kojitsu," or traditional court and samurai rules of ceremony and etiquette.

The Japan Doll Association calls the way of displaying the empress doll on observers' left in long-established Kyoto shops "Old Style," and the opposite way "Modern Style."

Only the Kyoto store in Shimogyo Ward, of the 18 Takashimaya department stores located around Japan displays the dolls in both the old and modern styles. Dolls made in Kyoto are displayed in the old style. This even applies to sweets modeled after hina dolls; although most of the cake decoration and package designs sold at department stores are modern style, most long-established Japanese-style confectionery stores in Kyoto maintain the old style.

(translated by Galileo, Inc.)

Photo (top)= "Modern Style" display with the empress doll on observers' right (Takashimaya department store, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto)
Photo (bottom)= "Old Style" display with the empress doll on observers' left (Hashimoto doll shop, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto)