Takayama: Sarubobo dolls


Sarubobo, or “baby monkey” dolls, are everywhere in Takayama. Apparently there is a very long tradition of them being made throughout Japan, but today they are made almost exclusively in Takayama. They were traditionally made by mothers for their daughters (but now are made for everyone, they are a huge tourist/souvenir item in not just Takayama but the Japan Alps more broadly, and there is even a ton of Hello Kitty Sarubobo stuff, etc.). They were originally made not just as toys, but also as amulets for good fortune (“Saru” means monkey, but it also translates as “leave,” so if you have a sarubobo, bad things will leave you). When mothers made these dolls for their daughters, they would think positive wishes for them  and the dolls would be imbued with those wishes.

They can be any color, but they are most often red. Wikipedia claims it is because baby monkeys have red faces (and in Japan, most of the monkeys/primates are red faced – and very red-bottomed, too.) but I was told by a Takayama shopkeeper that this because during a time of a great plague, most mothers made red dolls – red as a color of life and of warding off evil – to keep the plague away from their children.




These are ema, or prayers/wishes, AT a temple.


This is a Sarubobo shrine – with sarubobo praying to the sarubobo deity.

Anyway, I knew I would have to buy one for Aardvark, and that once I was home with my sewing machine, etc., I would figure out a pattern and make one for her, just like Takayama mamas.

But then I found a shop where you could make one there! Aardvark and I decided to ditch Don’s class for a bit and make a doll together. We had such a good time making it, and I’m so, so glad I got to make her one rather than buy one.


She picked the color of the doll and the kimono pattern, as well as the bib.

And, it turns out Don’s students were delayed, so we caught up to them on time in the end!



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