Maiko attending the Nagashi-bina ritual at Shimogamo Shrine

Nagashi-bina is a Hina Matsuri ritual which is said to have been started during the Heian period (794-1185). This is also believed to be the origin of the Hina Matsuri festival today. In olden times, people floated small figure paper dolls on streams, on rivers or into oceans praying for their children’s healthy growth and to get rid of bad fortunes.

At Shimogamo Shrine, every year on March 3rd, “Sandawara” (small dolls made out of straw) will be floated on the Mitarashi River running in the precinct by various participants, including an Imperial couple wearing beautiful Heian period costumes, Maiko and Geiko, priests, and others. 

This is a very popular Hina Matsuri ritual in Kyoto which attracts quite a few people.  As usual, the location one reaches or selects will be one of the main factors deciding the photo potential.  It is mandatory to arrive among the first to place oneself in the best possible location to be able to capture the scene. Japanese people are very respectful and once a spot has been “claimed” by someone, it is accepted and respected. I’ve often seen photographers leaving their bag with all their gears to mark their spot, and then simply leave for a coffee or to scout the place. 

When I arrive in such place, I often start by checking out where the professionals choose to locate themselves.  The crew of the official TV channels will usually have prime locations.  Then, there is the official photographer(s) of the event, with a special freedom to move around.  The various accredited photographers, if any, will also usually know where to position themselves for the best position, the best view. This comes with experience and I’ve learned quite a bit by chatting with the people while waiting for the event to start.