Photo borrowed from The Daily Yomiuri, 9/22/11, Edition T, p. 3.
This story strikes me as... different to say the least. I would like to hear more about this practice. Informed comments are most welcome. Story from The Daily Yomiuri Online:
Mika Sato has found that two dolls resembling her 6-year-old daughter, who died in the March 11 tsunami, have helped soothe her emotional scars.
"It was like my daughter came back to me," said Sato, 36, recalling the day earlier this month when she received the two dolls from the nonprofit organization Tamezo Club.
Omokage bina are dolls that resemble people who have passed on. They are made by craftsmen who work from photographs of the deceased person.
Since early August, Tamezo Club, a welfare services organization, has been donating them to people who lost loved ones in the March 11 disaster.
While studying the photographs, the craftsmen work carefully to make the doll's facial expression, hairstyle and other features capture the character of the person they are a tribute to. Creating a single doll takes about one month, according to the organization.
Iwatsuki Ward is known for hina doll production, and local hina doll makers have been cooperating with Tamezo Club on the donation program.
The group plans to offer 1,000 dolls in total. Thirty-six dolls have already been given to bereaved relatives, the group said, and requests have been received from people who want dolls to remember not only children, but also parents and grandparents who died in the disaster.
Yoshihiro Okuyama, 62, a Tamezo Club representative, said, "I hope people keep the dolls close to them, and that the dolls give them emotional support."
After reading about the program in a newspaper, Sato - who lives in the hard-hit city of Ishinomaki - contacted the group and asked that they create a doll modeled after her late daughter Airi.
Airi and four other children from kindergarten in the city died after a school bus carrying them was engulfed by the tsunami. Airi had always looked after her sister and shown great character, Sato said.
Some time after the disaster, Sato found a notebook in Airi's desk, in which Airi had written a birthday message for her mother:
Airi will help you at home.
Mom, I really mean it.
I really love you, Mom.
The two dolls, which were delivered to Sato on Sept. 11, each is wearing a gentle smile. Their straight black hair falls on their shoulders.
"The big, round eyes look exactly like Airi's," Sato said.
"I've been given these hina dolls that look like you, Airi. I have to take good care of them, don't I?" she said while stroking the head of one of the dolls.
Tamezo Club is currently accepting requests for omokage bina dolls. The organization is also seeking donations from the public to help raise funds needed to make the dolls.
UPDATE: Recommended source from a colleague...
The Bloodstained Doll: Violence and the Gift in Wartime Japan
The Journal of Japanese Studies - Volume 31, Number 2, Summer 2005, pp. 329-356