5 Delicious Things To Eat in Berlin on a Berlin Food Tour (including Berlin Food With Kids!)

5 Delicious Things To Eat in Berlin on a Berlin Food Tour (including Berlin Food With Kids!)

I have found Berlin food surprisingly diverse – maybe because it is such a young cosmopolitan city in Germany.  You can get some of the best German food in Berlin but you also have lots of ethnic things to eat in Berlin. A Berlin food tour is a great way to experience the city’s culinary diversity. I once took one of the Withlocals Berlin food tours and loved it for I finally  got to appreciate some of the best food in Berlin! A local foodie named Liz enriched my discovery quest of Berlin foods with lots of insights, anecdotes and fun facts about the delicacies, venues and places we were exploring together.  The small scale of the tour meant we got to experience both typical Berlin food but also lots of the stories behind the food. As a bonus (and as you all know, the kids and I have got a sweet tooth), there are plenty of sweet treats considered Berlin local food.

Typical Berlin Food: Currywurst

You can’t leave Berlin without experiencing Currywurst which is ubiquitous in the city. We are always happy to try  street food in a new place. This German fast-food equivalent of pizza for Americans or fish and chips for the British has a relatively recent history.

After World War 2, ketchup was in scarce supply to accompany pork sausages.  An enterprising Berliner came up with a sauce involving ingredients she got from the British forces stationed in Berlin.  This sauce of tomato paste, worcestershire sauce and curry powder quirky caught latched onto the public’s tastebuds and a food icon was born. As an Indian-American, I am always fascinated by how widespread the British love of curry went.

One of the most popular places in Berlin for Currywurst is Curry 36 in the young and trendy Kreuzburg district.  Open 24 hour, Curry 36 caters to the late night bar and club crowd in the area well.

Currywurst is typical Berlin food and is ubiquitous.

Currywurst is typical Berlin food and is ubiquitous.

Berlin food :  Kartoffelpuffer

Technically Kartoffelpuffer (German potato pancakes) are not just a Berlin local food. They are popular everywhere in Germany. Berlin however is such a walkable city and Kartoffelpuffer is a great street food snack.

Fun Fact! Kartoffelpuffers are NOT potato rostis even though they look similar. Rosti uses shredded potatoes but the katoffelpuffer uses grated potatoes for a finer texture.
German potato pancakes are among the great things to eat in Berlin.

German potato pancakes are among the great things to eat in Berlin.

 

You can serve Kartoffelpuffer as a sweet or savoury dish. We prefer our Kartoffelpuffer dusted with icing sugar but you can also get it served with apple sauce. The savoury version has a yogurt sauce or sour cream.

What to eat in Berlin:  Berliner Pfannkuchen

A Berliner Pfannkuchen (or Berliner for short) is a type of German doughnut. Just to be contrary, Berliners call this pastry treat a Berliner Pfannkuhen but Pfannkuchen is technically pancakes elsewhere in Germany. Don’t get conned into eating pancakes when you are looking for doughnuts!

Urban Legend Alert! American media has called out John F. Kennedy’s famous speech in Berlin where he said “Ich bin ein Berliner for using the indefinite article wrong. Instead of identifying as a Berliner, he was thought to have referred to himself as a jelly doughnut. Wrong! Apparently the indefinite article use was correct AND no one from Berlin calls the Pfannkuhen a Berliner anyway.  

You can get Berliners everywhere but traditionally they were eaten at celebrations like New Years Eve and the period before Lent. Berliners can come as jelly doughnuts or have no filling inside.

According to my sugar loving kids, some of the best food in Berlin is a Berliner Pfannkuchen (a jelly doughnut)

According to my sugar loving kids, some of the best food in Berlin is a Berliner Pfannkuchen (a jelly doughnut)

Food To Eat in Berlin: Schaumkauss

Schaumkauss (translated as “foam kiss”) are tasty little treats of chocolate covered marshmallow. Similar to a teacake in the United Kingdom, you can find them easily in Berlin. In fact, there are approximately 1 billion schaumkauss made in Germany which works out to a dozen per person per year.

Schaumküsse are a great food to try in Berlin.

Schaumküsse are a great food to try in Berlin.

Sometimes you can find Schaumkauss served in a bun. I personally prefer to put the extra carbs to use in eating more Schaumkusse itself.

Food to try in Berlin: Baklava

When did Baklava become German I hear you ask.  Well, there is a huge Turkish community (including German-born descendants of Turkish immigrants) living in Berlin. They are located mostly in the areas that were formerly West Berlin (let’s face it immigration to East Germany was not happening).

Fun Fact! The German Turkish community is the largest population of Turks outside of Turkey!
Tasty Baklava is a surprising entry in Berlin local food to try.

Tasty Baklava is a surprising entry in Berlin local food to try.

You can find “Little Istanbul” in the southeast part of the trendy Kreuzberg district. If you’ve stopped at Curry 36 for a currywurst, it’s easy to meander over to this area for something sweet afterwards.

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5 delicious Berlin local food suggestions (including Berlin food your kids will love)

5 delicious Berlin local food suggestions (including Berlin food your kids will love)

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The Best London Gifts To Give (And Gifts To Bring Back From London For Yourself!)

The Best London Gifts To Give (And Gifts To Bring Back From London For Yourself!)

London either you love it or loathe it. I’m one of those people that love London, and I honestly can’t understand how someone wouldn’t love London. Do you know someone who loves London despite its obvious flaws? Here are some great idea for London gifts for every lover of London you might know. You can get some great London themed gifts which are not the tacky souvenir kind. And, you know when you shop for others, gifts to bring back from London for yourself may catch your eye. Here’s our curated list of cool gifts from London and about London.

London Gift Ideas for Architecture Lovers

In the London skyline chess set, we’ve got famous London landmarks in moulded acrylic stand in for the the usual pieces:

  • Big Ben = rook
  • The London Eye = knight
  • The Gherkin = the Bishop
  • The Shard = Queen
  • Canary Wharf = The King
  • Terraced houses = pawns

This beautiful set is perfect for people who love London and/or chess and/or design.

If you are looking for cool gifts from London, check out the London Skyline Chess set which has pieces based on the architecture of the city.

If you are looking for cool gifts from London, check out the London Skyline Chess set which has pieces based on the architecture of the city.

For the young budding architect lover, the Lego Architecture skyline building set has The London Eye, Big Ben, the Tate Modern, St. Pauls and Tower Bridge.  Other Lego architecture London gift ideas include the Buckingham Palace Landmark Building set and a Lego Creator/Lego Creator Expert sets of Tower Bridge and red London double decker buses.

My son loves this Lego Architecture set of London landmarks

My son loves this Lego Architecture set of London landmarks

This gorgeous book by a London resident artist, Modern London, showcases the best of London’s modern architecture for the last 100 years.

An architecture book with beautiful artwork created by a London resident

An architecture book with beautiful artwork created by a London resident

Buy These Great London Gifts Now!

London Themed Gifts for Book Lovers

Books about the city and its life make great London themed gifts.

London themed gifts for book lovers include aspects of the city’s history, cooking and entertainment.

London themed gifts for book lovers include aspects of the city’s history, cooking and entertainment.

Spitalfields is a really interesting overview of an interesting part of East London which has seen waves of immigrants, Jack the Ripper and now trendy hipsters.  Narrowing down the focus of the area even more, 18 Folgate Street is the history of a house in Spitalfields which is now restored as a museum.

Moving onto modern London, Together: The Community Cookbook was a project by the Duchess of Sussex (our very own American princess!) to fundraise for the inhabitants of one of the worst London tragedies in recent times – the fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017 which killed 72 people. These recipes are from some of the displaced survivors of Grenfell Tower and showcase the migrant history of London today with diverse recipes including Iraqi, Algerian, Indian and Russian.

Everyone who loves London appreciates its quirkier aspects. Here are three great options that go beyond the usual tourist information:

Fun Fact! (From London’s Strangest Tales) Did you know that upscale grocer Fortnum & Mason started off by recycling Queen Anne’s old candles?

These books are gifts from London, ideas where to go in the future for that London lover who will surely return.

Buy these London themed gifts for book lovers now!

London Gifts for the Home

We have wonderful memories of Regents Park (see the print below by Alice Tait) because we lived when the kids were young in St. Johns Wood near the famous Abbey Road Studios. Every time we left our house, we would run into tourists trying to recreate the famous walk across the crosswalk by The Beatles. Every single time. It was never-ending. I can tell you that got annoying very fast. We had to leave the neighbourhood before my impulse for vehicular homicide got the better of me.

These prints make great London gift ideas because they can commemorate a special place.

These prints make great London gift ideas because they can commemorate a special place.

Gin has had both a huge history in London and a new resurgence as a drink.  In the early 18th century, Londoners would drink about 1/2 a pint of gin a day leading to serious alcoholism and social issues as depicted by artist Samuel Hogarth’s famous engraving series, The Rake’s Progress. Then there was a lull in the popularity of the drink and now there are gin bars all over London. Gordon’s is the world’s best selling London gin but cool craft bottles of local gins make great gifts to buy in London.

Bottles of London gin make great London gifts

Bottles of London gin make great London gifts

Buy these London gifts for the home!


Cool Gifts in London for Map Lovers

You can buy great antique maps of London. This map below I bought as a present for my husband. I loved that this particular map contained all the illustrations of the buildings on the banks (including the Tower of London!) and the boats on the River Thames as well as the layout of the streets. You can see the old London Bridge which had buildings on it similar to what you find in the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence Italy today.

This antique map of London shows the Thames and the City of London during Elizabethan times.

This antique map of London shows the Thames and the City of London during Elizabethan times.

I bought this map in an antique shop off Bond Street but you can get much cheaper options which make great gifts to bring back from London.

I’ve gotten books for my son called Maps of London and Beyond and London: A History in Maps which has got maps showing how the city progressed. They are very cool to browse through to see how this dynamic city has changed through the centuries.

Maps of London don’t need to be expensive such as this postcard.

Maps of London don’t need to be expensive such as this postcard.

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The Best London Gifts To Give (And Gifts To Bring Back From London For Yourself!)

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Experiencing World Religions: Holy Places in the World Not To Miss

Experiencing World Religions: Holy Places in the World Not To Miss

I am drawn to the most spiritual places in the world like a moth to a flame. Probably because I have found myself lacking in faith many a time, I am always curious to see people who truly believe all the time no matter what. When you traipse around as many cultural places as we visit, you do come across a fair few holy places in the world important to the world’s different religions. My kids learn about world religions in school. Experiencing world religions in context though highlights for them both the similarities and the differences of these various beliefs. In these spiritual places to visit, it is fascinating to see the devotion to ritual and to tradition by people the world over, despite the actual specifics of each religion being different.

Holy Places of Christianity

As the world’s largest religion, with approximately a 1/3 of the world as believers, you would expect there to be many holy places of Christianity. Some of the holy sites of Christianity overlap with the holy places of Judaism in Israel, such as notably Jerusalem.

Although tiny in size, Vatican City is the spiritual home of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics. Historically, the Pope and Catholicism wielded much more power over Europe. A tour of the Vatican will show you some of the  most amazing artifacts from that time, so you can only imagine how many cool things they have stored away not available to the public.

Vatican City in Rome has been one of the holy places of Christianity for hundreds of years ever since it was believed that St Peter became the first pope.

Vatican City in Rome has been one of the holy places of Christianity for hundreds of years ever since it was believed that St Peter became the first pope.

There was even a period in the 14th century where the Popes lived in Avignon instead of Rome. Between the famous churches such as Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle in Paris or the Imperial Chapel in Vienna and the celebrated shrines such as Lourdes or Fatima, you will no doubt find yourself somewhere near the holy sites of Christianity in Europe. Barring that, there are bound to be some relic stored in a church somewhere related to a random saint or possibly even Jesus.

One of the places I have always wanted to visit (but never will) are the monasteries of the Greek Orthodox Church at Mt. Athos. There has been religious communities at Mount Athos for thousands of years. The Emperor Constantine issued an edict in A.D. 1060 banning women from staying at or even visiting Mt Athos. So Visiting Mount Athos isn’t happening for me!

Visiting Mount Athos and any of its monasteries is forbidden for women thanks to a decree by Emperor Constantine nearly 1000 years ago.

Visiting Mount Athos and any of its monasteries is forbidden for women thanks to a decree by Emperor Constantine nearly 1000 years ago.

Holy City of Judaism

Judaism is the world’s oldest monotheistic (believing in one God) religion. The holy city of Judaism is undoubtedly Jerusalem. The most holy places of Judaism in Jerusalem are the Temple Mount and the Western Wall (about as close as you can get to the sacred area of the Temple Mount).

Praying at the Western Wall, one of the holy places in Jerusalem which is THE holy city of Judaism.

Praying at the Western Wall, one of the holy places in Jerusalem which is THE holy city of Judaism.

Other important Jewish holy places in Jerusalem include the Mount of Olives, the tomb of King David, the tomb of the prophet Samuel and the Ramban Synagogue (the oldest active synagogue in Jerusalem).

Holy Places of Sikhism

In 2012, there was estimated to be 30 million followers of Sikhism. The 5 most revered places of worship in Sikhism are all located in India spread among several states including Punjab and Bihar. At the pinnacle of Sikhism holy sites is the Golden Temple in Amritsar. This Amritsar temple is the most visited of Sikh pilgrimage places.

An Amritsar temple, Sikh gurdwara Golden Temple, one of the Sikh pilgrimage paces in Punjab, India

An Amritsar temple, Sikh gurdwara Golden Temple, one of the Sikh pilgrimage paces in Punjab, India

Fun Fact! There are more Sikhs than Jews (30 million versus 15 million) even though Judaism is considered one of the world’s 5 major religions.

Sacred Sites of Hinduism

There are over 1 billion followers of Hinduism, most of them concentrated in South East Asia. Needless to say you can come across quite a few sacred sites of Hinduism in India. Varanasi is the holiest of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism. A Hinduism holy place for thousands of years, people come from far and wide to bathe on the city’s steps that line the River Ganges

Praying on the banks of the Ganges River, a Hinduism holy place, in the city of Varanasi in India.

Praying on the banks of the Ganges River, a Hinduism holy place, in the city of Varanasi in India.

Another Hinduism holy place is Allahabad which is believed to be religiously signifcant because it is placed at the convergence of the three sacred rivers, Ganges, Yamuna and the Sarasvati.

Holy Places of Buddhism

We had planned to go to Tibet during Easter break. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise that late March time overlapped with one of the holiest times for Tibetan Buddhist monks. These monks has a habit of ritual self-immolation during this time in protest of the Chinese government. Needless to say, the Chinese government were not issuing permits to visit Tibet then.

There are 8 holy places of Buddhism located among India and Nepal. For example, Lumbini in Nepal is venerated as a holy place in Buddhism because that is where the Buddha was born as a prince. Kushinagar in India is another holy place in Buddhism because that is where the Buddha attained nirvana after his death.

A statue of Buddha in one of the sacred places of Buddhism in Lumbini, Nepal where the Buddha was born.

A statue of Buddha in one of the sacred places of Buddhism in Lumbini, Nepal where the Buddha was born.

With the widespread influence of Buddhism in Asia, many countries have local holy places of Buddhism for their particular tradition. For example, the acred places of Buddhism for Tibet are located in Lhasa. The Buddhist temple and UNESCO world heritage site, Todaiji in Nara in Japan, has one of the world’s largest bronze statues (of Buddha) in the world.

Taoism Holy Places

Taoism is considered a traditional Chinese religion which has four sacred sites located in four different provinces of China. We visited one of the Taoism sacred sites (Mount QingCheng in Dujiangyan in the Sichuan Province) because we were in the area to see the Giant Panda Breeding Center.  The other three mountains considered to be a part of Taoism holy places are the Wudang Mountains (considered to be the Tao counterpart to the famous Buddhist Shaolin temple), and Mount Longhu with its cliffside temples and Mount Qiyun in Anhui Province.

A boat crossing a lake in Mt Qingcheng - Taoism sacred places which has temples dotted throughout

A boat crossing a lake in Mt Qingcheng – Taoism sacred places which has temples dotted throughout

Mount QingCheng is considered the birthplace of Taoism. As one of the Taoism holy sites, this mountain has many temples located on it. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site. We were surrounded by Chinese people who had travelled from across the country with the specific aim of one of the Taoism sacred places.

Shintoism Sacred Places

Shintoism is the traditional religion of Japan. The Ise Grand Shrine in the province of Mie is one of the most holy places of Shintoism because it is dedicated to the sun goddess. The only person who can enter the Ise Grand Shrine is a member of the Royal Family, who are believed to be descended from the sun goddess.

One of the most famous shrines in Japan appears to float off the water of Miyajima Island near Hiroshima in Japan

One of the most famous shrines in Japan appears to float off the water of Miyajima Island near Hiroshima in Japan

Other holy places of Shintoism include the Kasuga Grand Shrine in Nara first built in the 8th century and the Izumo Grand Shrine, widely believed to be Japan’s oldest shrine.

Fun Fact! The Izumo Grand Shrine is so old, no one knows how old it is. By the time it was first mentioned in the records, the Izumo Grand Shrine had already been around for 700 years. 

Other famous shrines in Japan include the Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima which seems to float in the water during high tide, the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko which is dedicated to the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for 250 years. In Tokyo, one of the most famous shrines in Japan is the Meiji Jinju Shrine dedicated to the deified spirit of the Emperor Meiji who took over from the Tokugawa Shogunate and ushered Japan out of feudal times.

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Celebrating International Mushy Peas Day at the Best Fish and Chips in London

Celebrating International Mushy Peas Day at the Best Fish and Chips in London

In honour of the second International Mushy Peas Day, we visited a restaurant well-known for having one of the best fish and chips in London. After all fish chips and mushy peas are a classic British dish. It seems like something you either love or hate, like Marmite. My son loves mushy peas, my husband hates them. I think they just taste like a solid form of split pea soup. You can have traditional mushy peas or use them to jazz up other dishes like a burger or risotto.

Mushy Peas

So just when you thought they couldn’t come up with any more gratuitous holidays, November 9th is now the International Mushy Pea Day. I’m OK with celebrating food though (even the humble pea).

Fish and chips mushy peas - a classic British dish

Fish and chips mushy peas – a classic British dish

What is Mushy Peas?

First things, first. What is mushy peas? Mushy peas really are just that –  a glob of cooked peas seasoned in salt and sugar mushed together.

Mushy peas are a classic side dish in the North of England. They’ve earned their nickname of being Yorkshire’s caviar by accompanying many a fish and chips or pie meal. It’s the obligatory green vegetable bit that makes you feel better about all the fat and salt in the rest of the meal.

There’s an apocryphal story about Labour politician Peter Mendelson who was trying to shed his city slicker image and be one of the regular folk. Unfortunately, on a trip to Yorkshire he ordered fish and chips with a side of the “avocado dip”.  He has denied the story but the Peter Mandelson avocado story is just too good to disappear.
fish chips and mushy peas is a dish that you will find all over Britain

fish chips and mushy peas is a dish that you will find all over Britain

How To Make Mushy Peas

Do you know there are even mushy pea recipes that make mushy peas curry? The British have embraced and adapted Indian food totally. I like this simple easy-to-make mushy pea recipe for mushy pea curry that shows off the best of British Asian fusion food.

Making a mushy pea curry involves more than just adding curry sauce

Making a mushy pea curry involves more than just adding curry sauce

A traditional mushy pea recipe calls for dried marrowfat peas to be soaked in baking soda overnight and then simmered in salt and sugar until they form a green mush.  Appetising (to some). Here is the basic traditional recipe for mushy peas.

If you want to go non-traditional, you can use mushy peas to make burgers, risottos and tarts.  I’ve always loved risotto with peas so I am partial to this mushy pea recipe that adds a pea puree to risotto.

a mushy peas recipe for mushy peas risotto

a mushy peas recipe for mushy peas risotto

Why have avocado toast when you can have peas on toast? Here’s a cool variation on the ubiquitous millennial dish.  Can you blame Peter Mandelson for (allegedly) mixing up avocados and mushy peas?

mushy peas on toast is a less fattening version of the popular avocado toast

mushy peas on toast is a less fattening version of the popular avocado toast

Are Mushy Peas Good For You?

Well, it’s not bad. There are about 87 calories per 100 grams. It’s also low in fat but provides proteins and carbohydrates. Other essential nutrients include iron, zinc, potassium and fibre.

There are not many calories in mushy peas but lots of essential nutrients

There are not many calories in mushy peas but lots of essential nutrients

Go on. Have some mushy peas. Maybe they will be your new avocado substitute.

Best Fish and Chips in London

If you want to try a classic British dish, then fish chips and mushy peas are the way to go.  They are many options for fish and chips in London at many price points. Here are out three favourite options, including the obligatory cheap and greasy joint.

I am not big on deep fried food and/or anything wrapped in newspaper. My pores break out just thinking about it. So you know, the fish and chips have to be good to get a pass from me!

Fish and chips are Friday school lunch classic in British schools. Even my non-fish eating daughter was fine with Fish Finger Fridays (probably because there was hardly any fish in the versions she was served).

Seashell of Lisson Grove

Our vote for the best fish and chips in London goes to the Seashell of Lisson Grove located in Marylebone. It’s been around for 50+ years (e.g, supposedly Princess Di would send her driver to Seashell Lisson grovefor takeaway back in the day). There’s a take away and casual dining place on the corner of Lisson Grove as well as a fancier restaurant next door.

The Seashell of Lisson Grove menu has an extensive choice of fish.

The Seashell of Lisson Grove menu has an extensive choice of fish.

More Good Options For Fish and Chips in London

My friend went on a quest to find the most ‘authentic’ and best fish and chips in London. His methodology was simple. He asked every cab driver he met. The most recommended was The Fryer’s Delight (19 Theobalds Road, London WC1X 8SL) near Holborn. He loved it – basic, delicious and cheap.  Personally, I thought it was too greasy.

Another good option for a retro-cool ambience is Poppies Fish and Chips London which has outposts in three locations now. In addition to the original location in uber-cool Shoreditch, it’s also got outposts now if you are craving fish and chips in Camden and Soho. The owner has been serving fish and chips for decades in the East End before gentrification pounced upon this working class neighbourhood. Anyway, we didn’t choose the fish and chips in Camden because they didn’t serve mushy peas.

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How to make mushy peas, both as a traditional side dish and as a fresh take on old favourites

How to make mushy peas, both as a traditional side dish and as a fresh take on old favourites

Where to go for the best fish & chips in London

Where to go for the best fish & chips in London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Vintage Japanese Dolls Make Affordable and Cool Japanese Souvenirs

Why Vintage Japanese Dolls Make Affordable and Cool Japanese Souvenirs

When you are travelling in Japan, you see lots of antique Japanese dolls for sale.  These dolls are a relatively affordable souvenir even if they are Japanese porcelain dolls. Sure they aren’t as cheap as a Chinese-made fridge magnet but they are way also way cooler and have a cultural significance.  The most elegantly beautiful vintage Japanese dolls we found were the Hina dolls from the Hinamatsuri festival celebrated on March 3rd every year. Alternatively, the folk art chic of Japanese wooden dolls may better fit your modern aesthetic.

The Hina Dolls

The Hina dolls are associated with Hinamatsuri in Japan, a festival that ensures the healthy growth of a daughter.

Fun Fact! The Awashima Jinja shrine in Wakayama is filled with 1000+ vintage Japanese dolls with the most numerous being Hina dolls.
Japanese antique dolls like these Hina dolls make cool Japanese souvenirs

Japanese antique dolls like these Hina dolls make cool Japanese souvenirs

What is the Hinamatsuri Festival?

The Hinamatsuri festival is a girls’ day celebration on the 3rd of March. Hinamatsuri in Japan is celebrated for daughters until their 10th birthday.

Each family brings out their Hinamatsuri doll set which is a series of dolls placed on a red tiered carpet. Yes, the dolls have a hierarchy too. There will always be a man and a woman on the top tier of Hinamatsuri dolls which is supposed to represent the Emperor and Empress.

At the top of the Hinamatsuri doll set are representation of the Emperor and Empress, representing the hierarchy in society as well.

At the top of the Hinamatsuri doll set are representation of the Emperor and Empress, representing the hierarchy in society as well.

The Hinamatsuri festival has a macabre origin story. The legend goes that one of the mythical founders of Japan (sort of like Romulus and Remus for Rome) purified himself after visiting the Land of the Dead. This purification used to include human sacrifice. During the Heian period though, ritual purification could be done by transferring your issues to a doll and throwing it in the river or sea.

Fun Fact! The Heian period was named for its capital city which is now Kyoto. The Heian period was a flourishing time for Japanese culture. It lasted from 794-1185

The Nagashi Bina Festival which is more like the Heian period festival of transferring uncleanliness onto a doll is still celebrated in some places, including the Shimigomo Shrine in Kyoto. There is a Nagashi Bina Doll Museum in the city of Tottori.

Hinamatsuri dolls wear traditional outfits from the Heian period, widely regarded as a glorious period in Japanese cultural history.

By the late 17th century, the Nagashi Bina festival transformed into the Hinamatsuri festival which is widely celebrated  today in Japan.

The Hinamatsuri Doll Set

Usually a family gets the first two dolls (the Emperor and the Empress) of a Hinamatsuri doll set by the first birthday of their child. You don’t need to have any more Hina dolls because that is the basic set. The dolls are offered little food offerings and sake. We discovered that Shintoism in Japan seems to love sake offerings!

They Hina dolls are displayed for only a brief time because of the superstition that if you left them up too long they would be responsible for the daughter’s late marriage. Heaven forbid.

You can see how detailed and beautiful a Hina doll can be in this version.

You can see how detailed and beautiful a Hina doll can be in this version.

How many more tiers of dolls you have depends on how much  money you have. A Hinamatsuri set ranges from 5-7 tiers with 15 dolls.

Below is a 3-tier Hinamatsuri doll set which has the Emperor and Emperess and their courtiers and musicians in traditional court dress from the Heian period.

A 3 tiered Hinamatsuri doll set.

A 3 tiered Hinamatsuri doll set.

A Hina doll is expensive to buy new. For example a full 5 tier set of Japanese porelain dolls can cost a couple of thousand US dollars. Usually families pass down the Hinamatsuri doll set from generation to generation.

Why Are Second Hand Hina Dolls Affordable?

You can, however, get a Hina doll fairly cheaply in second-hand stores. Antique Japanese Hina dolls are not bought by Japanese families. Dolls are supposed to take on human characteristics by virtue of looking like humans. It’s fine to inherit your doll from your family members but you will invite bad spirits into your home if you bring a stranger’s Hina dolls into your home!

My daughter thought they were beautiful until she heard the superstition about them having spirits of their own. Then she just thought they were creepy.

HInamatsuri dolls are used in the Hinamatsuri festival celebrated annually in March.

HInamatsuri dolls are used in the Hinamatsuri festival celebrated annually in March.

So there are lots of Japanese antique dolls floating around Japan that no longer belong to a family. It’s not like you can throw them out because that would really bring the reign down the wrath of a Japanese spirit. (Remember the Japanese horror movie, The Ring? No one wants that). So, these Japanese antique dolls get flogged to foreigners who appreciate them for their beauty and don’t have the attendant superstitions associated with them.

I did buy two vintage Japanese dolls before I learned about the legend and my daughter got spooked. Unfortunately, one of the Hina dolls lost his head somewhere in transit. The Japanese spirit associated with my headless Hina doll is probably very annoyed but has yet to pay me a visit. Sort of like the legend of the Headless Horsemen of Sleepy Hollow, he’s probably still out there searching for his head (somewhere in baggage claim).

Kokeshi Dolls

Kokeshi dolls are simple wooden Japanese dolls that originally started in the Northeast of Japan.

Farmers made these Japanese wooden dolls from scraps of wood to wile away the time during the winters. Kokeshi Japanese dolls were probably a good luck symbol.

Fun fact!  Traditionally farmers made and gave Kokeshi dolls to their children to ensure a good harvest.

Then kokeshi dolls got sold as souvenirs to people visiting the onsens (hot springs) in the area in the early 1800’s during the Edo Period. Eventually they also became a toy for children. Sometimes a Kokeshi doll was given to a woman who had lost a baby through miscarriage or abortion.

Unlike the Hina dolls, the Kokeshi dolls meaning were believed to be a good luck charm. They were both a guardian of children’s souls but also able to contain the spirits of ancestors. Personally, I would have thought that was just as creepy.

There is a Kokeshi Museum in Osaki City which has about 5000 Japanese kokeshi dolls on display.

Vintage Kokeshi Dolls

The vintage kokeshi dolls you will find are super-simple. They have a hand-drawn face, no arms and legs, and a floral design on the body. There are apparently 11 different types of Kokeshi patterns which are associated with different onsens. You may find the artist’s signature on the bottom of a Kokeshi doll.

Vintage Kokeshi dolls are handmade so each are different

Vintage Kokeshi dolls are handmade so each are different

Simple as they are, Kokeshi dolls take a long time to make because the wood is left outside to age for up to 5 years. The wood used can be cherry, dogwood, chestnut or Japanese maple. They are always made of wood, hand-carved andhand-painted.

You are basically looking for a Kokeshi doll that is pleasing to the eye. You want one that is not too top heavy and has a nice pattern. We saw some that my daughter classified as having “weird” faces but really it is a personal preference.

Modern Kokeshi Dolls

Modern kokeshi dolls appeared in the 1950’s and are more colorful and artistic. Artists were allowed more freedom to express their creativity unlike in the vintage kokeshi dolls. Also called creative kokeshi dolls, the body is painted wearing clothes like kimonos or yukatas. Unlike the vintage kokeshi dolls, modern kokeshi dolls can be made on special machines (but are still handprinted).

you can see how modern Kokeshi dolls got their style

you can see how modern Kokeshi dolls got their style

Kimmidoll Collection

The Kimmidoll collection takes the modern kokeshi dolls even further away from the traditional types. Inspired by Kokeshi dolls, Japanese kimmidolls contemporary collectible dolls. Kimmidolls are a mass-market approach to a Japanese tradition. They aren’t as charming as a the aged look of vintage Japanese dolls in my opinion but my daughter thought they were super pretty.

A kimmidoll keychain capitalises on the traditional Kokeshi craft.

A kimmidoll keychain capitalises on the traditional Kokeshi craft.

Each Kimmidoll represents a positive characteristic e such as laughter, understanding, love or entertainment. We got our Kimmidoll keychain at Kiddyland, a Japanese toy superstore in the Ometesando neighborhood near Harajuku.

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Hinamatsuri dolls make cool Japanese souvenirs but they do have a creepy legend associated with them.

Hinamatsuri dolls make cool Japanese souvenirs but they do have a creepy legend associated with them.

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