Photo/IllutrationDuring the Yanagawa Hina Matsuri held in March 2018, “Donkobune” boats carrying girls dressed up for the doll festival parade through a canal decorated with “sagemon” mobiles. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

YANAGAWA, Fukuoka Prefecture--With an eye to attracting Chinese tourists, city officials have decided to preopen the annual Yanagawa Hina Matsuri Sagemon Meguri (Doll festival parades) from Jan. 24 to Feb. 10.

The move is aimed at compensating for a sharp decline in the number of South Korean visitors, according to officials of the city government and the city-run tourist association. Many Chinese tourists will be traveling at that time during their long Lunar New Year holiday period.

During the preopening period, ahead of the festival's staging from Feb. 11 to April 3, the city’s major sightseeing facilities including Ohana, the former residence of Earl Tachibana, a Kanpo no Yado hotel, the Yanagawa Yokamonkan specialty shop and the house in which poet Hakushu Kitahara (1885-1942) was born will be adorned with “sagemon” mobiles.

Sagemon mobiles are a cultural tradition held to celebrate the first Hina Matsuri for a newborn girl by hanging "mari" balls, dolls in the shape of babies, cranes, rabbits and other ornaments in many colors.

The organizers will also bolster efforts to encourage foreign tourists to dress up in kimono and walk around the city to see sagemon decorations.

An exhibition and sale of sagemon and Yanagawa-style traditional mari woven balls will be held at a civic gymnasium on Jan. 25-26.

According to the city officials, about 230,000 foreign tourists visited the city in 2018, half of whom were South Koreans. But due to the worsening of relations between Japan and South Korea, the number of group customers and other visitors from South Korea has plummeted after around July 2019. A preliminary estimate for October showed that the number of South Korean tourists decreased by 65.5 percent year on year.

To deal with the situation, the city officials hammered out a plan in fall 2019 to enhance efforts to attract tourists from Thailand, Europe and the United States. Recently, however, a growing number of Chinese tourists are using Saga Airport in adjacent Saga Prefecture, while the Nagasaki Lantern Festival, held during the Lunar New Year holidays in Nagasaki, the capital of another prefecture in the northern Kyushu region, has also become popular.

The officials said they decided to preopen the doll festival to encourage Chinese tourists to make a side trip to Yanagawa.

The opening ceremony and the float parade of the 26th annual Sagemon Meguri will be held on Feb. 11, and the highlight of the festival, the boat parade, is scheduled for March 15.

The “Nagashi-bina” (doll-floating) festival will be held April 3 and many other festivities will also be offered.