The village of Shirakawa-go in Japan and the tradition of Sarubobo dolls

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If you visit Japan, besides the big, highly technological cities, you should dedicate some time to escape from the city life and break the routine, making a trip to the rural part of the country. And if you are looking for suggestions, our recommendation is the small rural village of Shirakawa-go. This beautiful place is located in the Prefecture of Gifu -to be more precise in the Ōno District- and is able to tell the story of the origins of Japan by its houses, that have maintained a very particular building style, known as gasshō-zukuri.

Immersed in green rice fields, the village of Shirakawa-go doesn’t represent only one of the most incredible places to visit in the Hida region -which includes the Northern part of Gifu too- but, as many others villages in there, it perpetuates also a very ancient doll tradition.

Yeah, you’ve read right, we are talking about dolls. Actually, since the moment you arrive at Shirakawa-go you can admire some colorful dolls looking at you from the window of every single shop. These dolls are called “Sarubobo dolls“(さるぼぼ) and they are mostly colored in red -even if you can find them in almost every color, shape and dimension now. They derive their name from two words, “saru”, that means “monkey” and “bobo”, that means “baby” – in the dialect of Takayama: literally they are “baby monkeys” and that’s absolutely correct because, even if at a very first sight you might thought they were humans, they are actually monkeys. In the past, Japanese grandmothers were used to sew and to give them to their grandchildren to bring them good luck in life, but is also believed they help women with an easy childbirth. They were and they still are a lucky charm!

Typical red sarubobo doll. Photo credit: skyseeker on VisualHunt.com / CC BY

The amazing part of all this is you can ear the story of this sweet tradition from the local population, especially from the old women that still live in those houses. Clearly nowadays, sarubobo dolls are sold in many souvenir shops and are the perfect gift for someone you love.

But pay attention to which color you’ll choose! Each sarubobo doll has its specific color, as they keep a different meaning one to another: for example, red means a good marriage and family; gold symbolizes money and success, as it helps cultivate talent and economic fortune -it also protects you against bad luck; yellow also represents money and gambling, but it generally brings luck in lotteries, and business; pink is the color of love, as it is believed it helps you meet someone -and if you already have someone or are married, don’t worry, because it will help you establishing a good relationship; blue means study or job and it is said it improves your concentration… Then we have green, that represents peace and good health, as it prevents you from illness; purple -in Japanese tradition, it’s a good color- symbolizes longevity and success in all aspects of life; finally, here’s black, which represents protection from evil.

Sarubobo dolls in a shop. Photo credit: fry_theonly on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-SA

Shirakawa-go, with his tradition, is a nice option to visit a part of Japan that is not covered by the most common travel guides. And you know, what is a trip, any trip, without a part that goes out of the scheme?

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Beatrice Giovine writes stories about music and places on Auralcrave and The Travel Shot. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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