The Ichimatsu Doll: Cute or Scary?
Dolls are an essential part of Japanese culture. But some of them somehow achieved the status of scary or even cursed objects. How? Read and find it out!
I am a passionate doll fan. I collect them and often buy used dolls online. While checking some information about Japanese dolls on the Internet, I came across multiple blog posts about scary Japanese dolls which were believed to move or even whose hair started growing.
Yikes! Scary enough, right? But I must admit I love spooky stuff, so I decided to research this topic.
The dolls that are widely associated with horror stories and scary urban legends are called Ichimatsu dolls. These are chubby-faced, cute-looking dolls with red lips resembling children. Usually, they have a hairstyle called okappa - a popular bob-like haircut mainly associated with girls. The doll's clothes are usually a gorgeous kimono of vibrant colors.
Being a true masterpiece, the Ichimatsu doll is reasonably pricy too - one new item may cost from 70.000 yen and higher.
According to one of the legends, the doll obtained its name from the 18th century famous Kabuki actor called Sanogawa Ichimatsu. He was a skillful onnagata - an actor that mainly specialized in female roles.
Another version is that the doll's name Ichimatsu was simply the most popular Edo period name for children. In the Edo period dolls became available for middle and peasant classes as toys. Starting from the Meiji era, these dolls started being produced in pairs - as boys and girls.
In Japan, dolls were sacred objects since ancient times when it comes to spiritual aspects of dolls.
Dolls were widely used in rituals: for instance, like body substitutes that were used to transfer illness from a sick individual because they resembled a person. Dolls also served as amulets for children as they could ward off negative energy of them.
In other words, a doll could have the potential to contain energy within to the point when it became "haunted" or "possessed".
Even now, many Japanese try not to throw dolls recklessly.
The Shinto traditions allow people to burn dolls and toys in a purifying flame by paying a small fee to the shrine. This burning method eliminates any negative effects of "haunted objects" and allows to pay respect to the doll that served a child many years.
Therefore, maybe, the evil image of Ichimatsu dolls partially appeared because people threw away old dolls without a proper ritual. After they could face some problems in their lives and thought it was a doll's revenge.
What about the scary hair of Ichimatsu dolls? Where do these rumors come from?
- The answer is in the technology of doll-making.
Some of the Ichimatsu dolls had a special mechanism that kept the doll's hair folded in half in one position. With time, this mechanism got old, and that caused the hair to loosen a bit. No superstitions, just science!
Although many of these scary stories of Ichimatsu dolls are false and based on superstitions, nowadays, they are still widely perceived as something evil and haunted. In commercials and pop culture, the image of Ichimatsu dolls is usually scary and connected with otherworldliness.
In reality, these dolls are a priceless legacy of the past and just a beautiful item that can be used for house decoration.
Maybe someday I will purchase one for my collection as well!
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