Ever since coming to Japan I had always wanted to see the real dolls of the ‘Hinamatsuri’ (Girl’s Day/Doll’s Festival). Hinamatsuri is typically celebrated on March 3rd every year in Japan to bring good luck and good health to any female children of the family. This year, sadly, I was in Taiwan during this period so I lost my chance to experience first hand any local Hinamatsuri events. But luckily, I came across some great information – the Hinamatsuri of Shichinohe in Aomori is celebrated in late April! I knew that this was the final chance to achieve my dream. So I planned a two day trip to Aomori, and visited Shichinohe on the second day.
To get there, I took the JR Ōu Line from Hirosaki to Aomori and transferred to the Towada-kankou-dentetsu(十和田觀光電鐵). Though the word ‘dentetsu’ usually means train or subway, in fact, it was a…bus! You can get on just in front of JR Aomori Station. It took about a 2 hour ride from Aomori to Shichinohe, and the price was 1780(you pay as you get off). Another option would be to travel by Shinkansen (bullet train) from Shin-Aomori to Shichinohe-Towada station. The Shinkansen, without any doubt, is much faster option than the bus, but it is also much more expensive!! It depends on what you value more…your money or your time!
The Hinamatsuri celebrations in Shichinohe are held in the central shopping street. Without realising, I actually got off at the Shichinohe information center (the terminal station) to find there was no one there on a Sunday morning (oops)! Spending half an hour getting aquainted with my guide, Google Maps, I finally arrived at the central shopping street! The event was being held from 10am to 3pm, from Friday to Sunday. I got there around 10. Even though there were not so many foreign tourists there, there was plenty of vigorous buzz among the residents! All the shops along the street had their Hina-ningyo (Hina dolls) on display, or were showing off decorations made with beautiful Japanese cloth. Of course, you can buy some of these decorations or even just the pretty textiles they are made from.
The first stop I visited was old store named ‘Yamamoto-kumi’. There was an older man introducing visitors to the rules and conventions for setting-up the display of the Hinamatsuri Dolls. Though I could only understand 50% of what he said, generally he was talking about the position and the items that each of the dolls hold. Most interesting was the position of the Prince and Princess Dolls (the most important dolls) is different in East Japan from West japan. I hope my Japanese skills get better so I can learn more facts about the fascinating Dolls of Girl’s Day.
The most impressive display for me was the Yonezawa(米沢) Hotel. The dolls displayed here were the very dolls owned by the owner, Mrs. 盛田(Morita)’s family since her grandfather’s time. Quite historical indeed!! Mrs. Morita also taught me about the hanging decorations. Her favorite decoration is the money pocket because it represents wealth and I also loved it! Is there anyone who doesn’t like money?? Lol. I also met one of the event organizers, Mr. Sakamoto. He also gave me some great recommendations. Everybody was surprised and excited after they found out that I was Taiwanese. They tried their best to communicate with me, even though I am not so good at Japanese. They were incredible warm and made me feel so welcome. Shichinohe is a little bit off the beaten track, for sure! But the residents and tourism association had put their whole heart into holding this event – I highly recommend you visit!
Wandering further around the streets, finally I found the old Yamayuu(山勇) store, which was originally a soy sauce company. Mrs. Morita told me this spot was a must-visit! As soon as I stepped inside, I could see some ladies sewing the decorations. Inside there are also a lot of Hinamatsuri dolls on display. But the really interesting feature of this store is that here you can try ‘Hinagozen’, a special set meal for the event. The meal includes 2 plates of sweet side-dishes, sekihan (a purplish rice with red bean) and miso soup. Maybe because girls are often associated with sweetness, the flavours of each part of the whole set were somewhat sweet. It only cost 500 yen to try Hinagozen. It was worth every yen to try this special food set surrounded by the decorations and the dolls – just like I was having lunch with a family of Hinamatsuri dolls! (Mrs. Morita also told me the event offers rice balls at the food stall beside the old Yonezawa hotel, if you prefer a snack!)
The Hinamatsuri festival in Shichinohe was the happiest part of my trip to Aomori! Besides completing my dream, everyone was so intensely kind to me and other tourists that I felt like I was in the company of old friends. Here, I couldn’t keep a huge smile off my face! The more I learnt about this area and its culture, the happier I felt. There is much more to discover in Shichinohe other than the Hinamatsuri. If I have the chance, I can’t wait to visit here again.
Access to Shichinohe
Hinamatsuri Venue: Shichinohe Central Shopping Arcade (七戸中央商店街)
Date (2017): April 22 ~ 24
Local Train + Bus (CHEAP ROUTE): Take the JR Ou Line from Hirosaki Station to Aomori Station (45 mins, 670 yen). From Aomori, take the Towada-kankou-dentetsu bus service to Shichinohe (about 2 hrs, 1780 yen).
Shinkansen (FAST BUT PRICEY ROUTE): Take the JR Ou Line from Hirosaki to Shin-Aomori Station (around 40 mins, 580 yen). At Shin-Aomori, change to the Shinkansen and get off at Shichinohe-Towada (usually on a Hayabusa service, which only offers reserved seating! Good news: it’s a 14 min journey!! Bad news: it’ll cost you around 3500 yen.
From other major centres such as Sendai or Tokyo: it is also recommended (in terms of saving time) to use the Tohoku Shinkansen, getting off at Shichinohe-Towada Station.
There are also a number of highway buses or even flights to Aomori prefecture (Aomori Airport, Misawa Airport) which may be more convenient depending on your starting location. For useful highway bus info: https://japanbusonline.com/Tohoku