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Welcome to the second instalment of the DOLLS IN JAPAN series part 2.  Sorry I’ve been away for some time, but we’re back with another deep dive into Japanese love doll culture!  Last time we looked at one interesting manifestation of the cultural acceptability in Japan of love dolls: boutique services to help real people look like love dolls.  It’s a real pleasure to be able to leverage the Japanese knowledge we have and return with a one-on-one interview with someone offering another incredible service for Japanese love doll owners.

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Leiya Arata holds love doll funeral services in Osaka.  Her clients are owners who know it is time to say goodbye to their dolls.

I’m surprised to find myself uncomfortable using the word ‘owner’ while writing this.  I’m learning about the Japanese context, I suppose.  To learn about Arata’s work is to understand that in the Japanese spiritual conceptualisation of dolls, there exists a soul; some livelihood that the doll possesses.  I spoke to Arata to understand: when is it time to say goodbye?

When are people in relationships ready to farewell to their dolls?  I am sure you've seen many different variations on this theme, but we'd love to understand when doll owners dedide it's time to say goodbye to a doll.

Arata:  Many doll owners think about the farewell when the environment changes. Some people said that even if they thought they had to say goodbye, there was no one who could safely dispose of it.

Buddhist monk Lei Kato conducts the services at Arata’s photography and funeral studio in Osaka.  The services are lengthy, elaborate.  Candles are lit.  Prayers are said.  Buddhist rituals, common to many funerals in Japan, are undertaken.  Sometimes other love dolls are positioned in the room as attendees to the service along with the client.
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Can you speak about the role of Buddhism, and a Buddhist monk, in your funeral services?  For example, is the funeral rite farewelling the 'soul' of the doll?  Do other religious traditions figure into your funeral services as well?

Arata:  At the doll funeral company, from the desire to mourn the love doll that has been close to us as a partner in the same way as a person, we perform a Buddhist ritual called “Indou Sahou” to send the deceased to the other world(another world/afterlife) and pull out the soul.



In this service I felt I recognised something of ningyo kuyo, a tradition for farewelling Japanese kokeshi dolls.  There are several traditions in which dolls are incorporated.  There is a Japanese spiritual sense, possibly dating back to the country’s ancient animist spiritual roots, in which dolls are said to possess a soul. 

Arata, when I heard about your service I first thought of the practice of ningyo kuyo.  I hope you don't mind the comparison!  Did you draw any inspiration from that?

Arata:  I think the doll memorial service is a culture unique to Japan.

One of the reasons for starting a doll funeral company is that there are almost no places that accept love doll memorial services at shrines and temples that offer doll memorial services.

Arata has said previously that her clients for these services are often great people but of self-esteem, and she sees it as her role to help provide them with love and acceptance.  It’s beautiful that these services exist at all, but I asked Arata about the history of this.  Surely that acceptance is a growing thing?

I am sure that the public reception of doll funerals has changed over the years.  Have you seen more participation over time, or more popular acceptance of doll funerals?

Arata:  Doll Funeral Company was just started in 2020 and does not advertise or promote.

In Japan, love dolls can be thrown away as household waste and can be bought and sold second hand.  Only those who are very attached, such as wanting to say goodbye as their own partner, will book the funeral.

I hope it will spread little by little.

We’re obviously a long way behind this cultural phenomenon in Australia.  We’ve a sizeable and growing love doll community, but as I’ve written about extensively in the past, we’re yet to occupy the little space in Western cultures that love doll ‘owners’ are able to inhabit in Japan.  I asked Arata for any advice she might have for Australians who feel that it is time to say goodbye to their doll.

In Australia, the relationship people have with dolls is far less documented and fleshed out than it is in Japan.  For an Australian doll owner considering saying goodbye to their doll, who perhaps hasn't heard about this kind of service before, what might you tell them about the importance of a proper funeral service?

Arata:  If Australian doll owners are considering farewell: If your doll feels soulful and attached, choose the option you won't regret. If you want to discard it. Be careful not to be mistaken for a corpse. Unlike humans, dolls exist until you want, and even if you say goodbye and lose their shape, the doll is beside you.

The soul exists.

            

A big thank you to Arata for letting us use her amazing photography and taking the time to interview with us. 

What do you think?  Aren’t the photos beautiful?  Would you like to see doll funerals begin as a service in Australia?  Let me know in the comments.

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