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Ningyo Kuyo




Ningyo Kuyo, Doll Memorial Service
Hokyoji Temple, Kyoto 宝鏡寺(京都)
Kiyomizu Kannondo Temple, Tokyo 清水観音堂(東京)

Ningyo Kuyo is a memorial service for beloved but now unwanted old dolls, which are offered to the goddess of mercy (Kannon bodhisattva). Before the ceremonial burning nuns of Hokyoji temple comfort the souls of the dolls by chanting sutras. Kannon is especially worshiped by women who wish to become pregnant and they also bring dolls hoping for offspring.












´My little granddaughter called last night to ask me to visit Hokyoji temple and I assured my darling that her doll will enter into eternal rest peacefully, so don’t worry` – an elderly lady standing behind me talked to her friend while we were waiting for the ritual. Japanese tradition holds that human-like dolls are imbued with a spirit and they have to be disposed of in a purifying ritual. 
















Hokyoji temple is an old nunnery, which served as a residence of imperial princesses. When a young princess went to the nunnery, the family sent her exquisite dolls to assuage homesickness. For instance Princess Kin received a doll with long orange-red hair reminiscent of a kabuki actor. This type of doll was believed to fend off hoso (chickenpox). Hokyoji maintains a number of antique dolls as well as sugoroku, kai awase, and other elegant, graceful, imperial play games. The temple is known as Ningyo-dera, Doll temple.





Earlier people believed that evil spirits could possess old abandoned utensils and turn them into spectres. A strong attachment to a thing might cause a spirit called tsukumogami, attachment god. An item’s old age (100 years) could also arouse this spirit. Paper lanterns or broken sandals might bear tears which became eyes and sharp teeth, thus giving a horrifying visage. Worn prayer beads or teacups could merely manifest faces and appendages, giving a warm and friendly appearance.

Though mostly tsukumogami were harmless they did have the capacity for anger. They could band together to take revenge on those who threw them away thoughtlessly. Modern items can’t possess tsukumogami, because these spirits don’t withstand electricity and few modern objects are used more than 100 years to gain a soul.