Hina Matsuri (雛祭り, “Girls' Day” or “Doll Festival”) is celebrated in early March to pray for the health and safety of daughters. Historically, in nagashibina ceremonies, “hina” dolls were floated down a river to carry away misfortunes. Over time, this tradition has evolved into displaying beautiful dolls in Japanese homes, schools and other public space. For this year’s Hina Matsuri, I found a live nagashibina event where girls were dressed in period costumes and floated down a river. With live traditional music and historic Edo buildings in the background, it felt like a scene straight from an ukiyo-e painting.
The nagashibina event took place in Sawara, in Chiba Prefecture. Sawara is a historic town where the streets and shops remain much as they were in the Edo period 200 years ago. Locally known as "Little Edo", Sawara was an important and prosperous port city. It’s said that people in the Edo period used to say:
Sawara is an easy escape from Tokyo to transport you back in time to an old elegant Edo.For such nostalgia, this slice of Japan has earned a place on the Japan Heritage List and the Michelin Green Guide. Unsurprisingly, visitor numbers are increasing so read on to learn how to make the most of your visit.
Tips and ideas for a day in Sawara:
- Pick up a walking guide and map (English available) from the Tourist Centre outside of the south exit of Sawara Station.
- Make your way to the area along the Ono River to see the historic buildings and bridges. Boating is also possible in the summer.
- Rent a bike or hop on a bus to visit the famous Katori-Jingu Shrine.
- Sawara hosts several festivals in summer and autumn too: see here and for the nagashibina event here (held on 10 March in 2018).
To get to Sawara:
- Sawara is only 45 minutes by train from Narita Airport so perfect for a visit if you have a couple of hours during a laypover or just before an evening flight. Check Hyperdia for train times (a change at Narita Station will be required).
- From Tokyo, the easiest way to get to Sawara is by highway bus. The Green Kantetsu Bus (heading towards Hokota) departs Tokyo Station, Yaesu Exit and takes 90 minutes to Sawara. Timetable here.
Thanks for reading!