Media in Japan this morning reported on a curious story coming out of Universal Studios Japan (Osaka-sh)i, which is currently hosting a temporary Halloween attraction at its facility. The attraction, Jホラー・エリア (J Horror Area) features dolls borrowed from Awashima Shrine (淡島神社) in Wakayama Prefecture. Hundreds of them. According to media reports, the Association of Japanese Doll Makers (日本人形協会),which is comprised of some 400 doll makers across Japan, has raised a complaint against USJ to the effect that the park’s attraction is damaging to the image of traditional Japanese dolls. In a letter of protest sent to both the park and the shrine, they claim that the use of dolls in this way treats them as cursed, and objects of fear, and that this will have negative repercussions for both makers and retailers.
There are no reports to suggest that USJ operators plan to make any changes to the attraction.
Jホラー・エリア (J Horror Area) is the first of its kind for USJ. From what we can understand of the Japanese description on the USJ website, Jホラー・エリア is an eerie village where once were held memorial services for dolls in the village shrine. However, after a tragic incident the shrine was sealed off, and the village isolated. Now the area is ready to be explored again, by you (park visitor), and promises to instil a fear never before experienced. Or something like that. See the official set up here. The attraction runs until Nov. 6 and is open from 6pm to park closing.
Awashima Shrine is located in the Kada area of Wakayama. It’s known as the birthplace of Hinamatsuri, the Japanese Doll Festival held across Japan every March 3rd. Accordingly then, Awashima Shrine is home to a truck load of dolls, that can be see all over the shrine’s grounds. The dolls are donated by visitors from all over Japan, many of them traditional Japanese dolls, but not all. According to some tourist websites, there’s a doll with growing hair at the shrine. However, this one is not open for public viewing. Very convenient!
Every year on March 3rd, some of the dolls are used as kind of scapegoats when they are loaded onto boats and sent out to sea in the hope that they will take some of life’s ailments with them.
Having not seen the dolls in the attraction at Universal Studios Japan it would be unfair to turn around and tell those who’ve raised protest to stop being so petty (as was this expat's initial reaction). Nor does it look like the Association of Japanese Doll Makers has any kind of legal footing here (the people at Awashima Shrine are surely free to do what they want with the dolls). That being said, one wonders how the donors of said dolls might feel about this. If by making their donation they hoped they would be rewarded with a cathartic spiritual experience, it might come as blunt slap in the face to then have their doll sent off to somewhere like USJ, a place which may be bags of fun but would be a stretch to call 'spiritual'. This expat has no idea if the loan of these dolls involved money changing hands, or if the people at Awashima Shrine just did it, because they wanted to. Either way, I’m not familiar with the practice of religious facilities lending out objects of worship and devotion to theme parks. But then custodians of religion have rarely been shy about accepting the odd donation.
In the end though, this all distracts from the main point here, which is that collections of dolls, whatever the form and setting, have always been a little disturbing. For this expat anyway.
Which team are you on? USJ, Awashima Shrine, or the Association of Japanese Doll Makers? Oh, and do dolls, whatever the setting, freak you out, too?
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