Hina Matsuri dolls, Spring Semba EXPO Osaka



Treasure-hunting for hina dolls and history in Osaka’s business district

In case you don’t have your own Hina Dolls at home, or even if you do, the Spring Semba Expo is a fantastic way to celebrate Hina Matsuri aka Dolls Day aka Girls’ Day in Osaka. For approximately one week leading up to Doll’s Day on March 3, doll sets from 9 wealthy families from the Semba area are on display in the modern corporate buildings and historic architecture of this important business district in Osaka.


■Senba history and background

The Semba area (also written Senba) has its roots in the castle town that emerged west of Osaka Castle in the 16th century. The area has long been central to Osaka commerce and has a deep history and bustling streets that are lots of fun to explore.

Hina dolls from the 1930's, children in kimono play with dolls in black and white photo

Of course, most of the merchant houses and historic buildings have been lost to time or demolished to build the huge skyscrapers that tower overhead. However, the neighborhood remains vibrant and full of culture. Mixed among corporate buildings, you will find historic sights, and small monuments to the regions forbearers and their accomplishments. Although Semba is very much a business district, there are a handful of shrines and temples dotting the streets, plus so many elegant restaurants and cafes where you can relax and refresh while you learn about Osaka’s history and admire the hina dolls.

■Historic architecture, hina dolls, & the families who owned them

●Ikoma Building

Ikoma building, Japanese architecture from the 1930's, retro architecture Osaka

The Ikoma family began their watchmaking business in 1870 and with their successes they were able to construct this gorgeous brick building in 1930. The building itself is a registered cultural property and while the upper floors are office space, the 1st floor lobby is open to visitors. There is also a cafe serving alcohol and caffeinated beverages.

Antique clocks on display in Ikoma watchmakers building, 1st floor lobby

The Ikoma family Hina dolls are on displayed on their original wooden boxes in the windows facing Sakaisuji Avenue.

Spring Semba Expo, Hina Matsuri Dolls at Ikoma Building

The dolls, while still elegant and showy in their own right, are quite small, round, and adorable to look at.

●Sukunahikona Jinja Shrine

Sukunahikona Jinja Shrine entrance and torii in Doshomachi, Osaka

The shrine is located on Doshōmachi Street, historically known as Osaka’s “medicine district” for its ancient apothecaries and modern-day pharmaceutical companies. Sukunahiko Jinja Shrine has two deities, both related to medicine, Sukunahikona—the Japanese deity of medicine— and Shinnо̄-san—an emperor in ancient China and the legendary founder of Chinese medicine.

Shinto Deities of medicine, enshrined at Sukunahikona Jinja Shrine

The set of Hina Dolls on the shrine grounds are from the late Meiji era (1868–1912) and include small tea sets, porcelain, and an adorable child-like doll and her set of geta. They were the property of Kiku Saito (later Kiku Besshо̄), the daughter of a merchant family in Semba, and she took them with her when she married into the Besshо̄ family, the family that has run Sukunahikona Jinja Shrine since 1910.

Spring Semba Expo, Hina Matsuri Dolls at Sukunahikona Jinja Shrine

●Shibakawa Building

Shibakawa Building, Osaka retro architecture near Yodoyabashi/Midosuji

This 1927 building facade is inspired by Mayan and Incan architecture from Latin America, however it incorporates many European-style elements as well. It was once a Western goods import business and finishing school, and today Shibakawa Building features a number of boutiques, a bar, restaurant, and cafe.

 Osaka retro architecture: Shibakawa Building bar, The Court

The Shibakawa family dolls are traditional 7-tier sets. And there are 4 of them! Dolls from the four daughters Yayoiko, Sumire, Haruko, and Ayako take up the entire exhibition space on the rooftop terrace in Shibakawa building. Before you even reach the rooftop, you’ll be greeted by photos of the Hina dolls tier-by-tier which line the staircase.

Shibakawa Building, Osaka retro architecture, stairway
Shibakawa Building rooftop terrace

The Shibakawa family originally moved to this corner of Semba in 1837 and established their residence, which was rebuilt by a later generation and became Shibakawa Building. The 4 girls’ (Yayoiko, Sumire, Haruko, and Ayako) mother was from Kyoto and so the elder two daughters have sets of dolls from a famous shop in Kyōto, while the younger two daughters were born after the family moved to Tokyo and their sets reflect the Tokyo style. Compare the styles in hina dolls from Eastern and Western Japan. See if you can tell which is which!
Kanto-style Hina Matsuri Dolls at Shibakawa Building, Osaka
Kansai-style Hina Matsuri Dolls at Shibakawa Building, Osaka
Interestingly, one of the sets is missing the Emperor and Empress dolls from the top tier. They have been replaced by a painting of the dolls by Osaka artist Naoki Chokujо̄.
Hina Matsuri dolls painted on scroll, Osaka, Japan

●Mitsubishi UFJ Bank Osaka Building

Mitsubishi UFJ Bank Osaka Building on Midosuji Boulevard
Built in 2017, this 21-story building is located directly on Osaka’s main boulevard, Midosuji. The first floor is a sprawling lounge open to the public with seasonal paintings, displays of old currency dating back to the Edo period (1603–1868), and a cafe.
Hina dolls from Toyota family in Osaka, Spring Semba EXPO
Hina dolls from the Toyota family, a merchant family that can trace its roots in this area back to 1675. The dolls belonged to Keiko Toyota, who received the dolls as a gift in 1932 from her grandmother, who lived in this area of Semba.

This is not an exhaustive list of the buildings and doll displays, so expect to see more when you visit.

■Special performances, drinks, & more

It is worth noting, that although the Hina Dolls are only on display for one week in early spring, the gorgeous buildings and fantastic architecture is here year-round. Many of the establishments mentioned above are open to the public, so you can admire the architecture and experience the history alongside cutting-edge modernity in Osaka’s merchant district.
Osaka central business district architecture, arial walkway
During the Spring Semba Expo, there will be a number of events related to Hina Matsuri, including musical performances, dance, the tea party on the rooftop terrace of Shibakawa Building (Mar. 3), and special sweets, workshops, and cocktails at participating establishments.

You may have noticed many of the doll sets include 5 court musicians, known as gonin-bayashi. Every year the Yamamoto Noh theater holds a traditional court music performance using instruments the musicians are holding. Listen in on the 2021 concert↓