The picturesque streets of Asuke are by themselves a sight to behold. Preserved as much as possible in the form of the old Japanese horse routes used for trade, thanks to the ceaseless efforts of its residents, flocks of tourists converge to this small village year round in order to step on the historic grounds of what once was an important merchant hub joining north to south, be amazed by the mountains vividly colored by the autumn trees, or simply enjoy the vibrant nature permeating the place.
Those same ingenuous citizens came up with an idea, in 1998, to promote tourism even further: "How about we all display our Hina dolls making them visible from the street for all to see?" The concept proved to be a success. Now, every year the town hosts the event, allowing curious tourists to peek at one of the most impressive collection of Hina dolls displayed at once.
Why See the Hina Dolls of Chuma?
It is known that Japanese hina dolls are somewhat difficult for a tourist to see. Unless at some special exposition, or at specialized sellers, these traditional decorative beauties are stowed away in each household, being taken out to decorate one of the house’s rooms only once a year, during the couple of weeks prior to the Hinamatsuri Festival, the "Girl's Day," commemorated on March 3rd. Other factors increase their rarity: households with only male offspring simply do not own the dolls, they are no longer displayed after the marriage of the daughters, and they are immediately put away after the commemorations, due to belief that leaving decorations past March 4th will result in late betrothal of the girls. For such reasons, people visiting Japan are rarely able to see the dolls, let alone witnessing multiple household-owned sets. That being so, the Dolls of Chuma, as property of each family in Asuke, make for an unmissable and renowned event even the Japanese talk a lot about.
Two Major Categories of Traditional Dolls
At Asuke, you'll be able to see dolls new and old, even some extremely rare ones from the Edo Period. But besides the dolls made from Kimono fabric, there are also those made of clay and hand painted, which are also important historic items. Other unique sets made from diverse materials are also expected to be displayed.
Meaning of "Chuma"
The term has its origins in the Edo Period, when freighters from the Shinshu region, who used horses for hauling cargo, united and passed to call themselves "Chukei-uma" (which roughly translates as "inter-connecting horse"). They used the town as relay station in the transport of salt from the Mikawa Bay to inland destinations, and tobacco and other mountain produce in the reverse direction. Later on, any person transporting goods by the then busy Ina Route (also known as Iida Route) would be called a "Chuma" worker.