Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Top-dollar dolls know no recession

June 12, 2009

I wrote about Japan’s traditional doll industry for the Reuters Luxury Summit this week, and I was surprised to find it’s not feeling much impact from the country’s deepest recession in decades – not bad, considering an average doll set can set you back 200,000 yen ($2,000).

One shop owner I spoke to even said sales had edged up in the all-important shopping season before the Doll Festival on March 3. Sales of some dolls have certainly dropped as consumers have gradually tightened their grip on their purses , but shop owners told me they’d seen solid sales this year of their “hina” dolls – the mainstay of their business.


These ornamental dolls in ancient court attire represent the imperial couple and their entourage, dressed to the nines on a staircase-like stage complete with mini-furniture, a carriage and other items. Families with daughters put the whole cast on display around the time of the festival.

Traditionally, the mother’s parents buy dolls for the first girl in the family, and while popular ones cost about 200,000 yen per set, some go for as much as 5 million yen. 

But it’s not just doting affection that leads families to splash out this much – shop owners said vanity is a key factor as many grandparents don’t want to be seen skimping on the doll duties by their families, in-laws and neighbours.

The pressure to show off is strong in rural areas, where tradition is more strictly followed, and in tight-knit communities everyone knows which family has the most sumptuous dolls in the house.

Nevertheless, the shop owners worry that this pressure is fading as more people live away from their parents and in-laws, and thus feel less need to keep up such traditional appearances.

“Nowadays, many people don’t have fussy families and in-laws around. That’s one of reason our industry’s in gradual decline,” one shop owner said.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Michael Caronna


Kids have a more important place in family than our early days, attributed to economic consciousness to control birth and our sense of responsibility. In my childhood I only had rubber bands to play with.

Posted by Suet King | Report as abusive

I live in an appartment with my wife and 1 year old daughter, and we just don’t have space to set up a tiered doll display (even if the family could afford to buy it). Smaller sets of glass cased dolls are available at about 60,000 – 120,000yen for a set, but ….


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