Travelogue Japan: Making A Sarubobo Doll – Souvenirs from Takayama

Ask any Japanese person about a souvenir to get from Takayama in Gifu prefectureand top on the list would be sarubobo dolls.

Literally translated to ‘baby monkey’ (saru is Japanese for monkey, while bobo is a local  dialect for baby), these featureless, human-shaped dolls usually come in red, with a tiny black hat and vest. While I couldn’t find any explanation on its origins, the dolls are traditionally made by grandmothers for their grandchildren, or by mothers for their daughters as a good luck charm.

Why Are They Red? 

Baby monkeys have red faces, and since these are supposed to be baby monkey dolls, sarubobo have similar crimson hues. Although in modern times, this has extended to include various other shades, including pink, blue, green, yellow, orange and purple.

Sarubobo As Charms

The sarubobo acts like an amulet that protects the receiver from bad things, encourages a happy home and a good match for the daughters. Since a monkey’s childbirth is easy, the doll also represents the giver’s hope that the receiver will have an easy delivery.


We were scheduled for a sarubobo-making class with a local crafts maker. Unfortunately I didn’t note down the name of the place, but it was a souvenir centre where visitors can also buy snacks and gifts.

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Our sensei for the day! Mariko-san translated for us.

To be honest, it wasn’t so much a doll-making class than it was a doll-decorating session, since the dolls were already provided: all we had to do was decorate and help put on the vest!


Even so, it was not as easy as it seemed. We were given some colourful pens and a selection of words to pick from, which we had to draw on the fabric. The words were traditional kanji (adopted from Chinese characters) so there were many strokes, and we couldn’t mess up so there were a few practice runs on normal paper. You can also choose to draw on the fabric but since its small, it might be difficult if you don’t have a delicate hand.


The session took about 40 minutes, after which we could take the medium-sized dolls home as souvenirs! So if you’re looking for a gift to bring back from Takayama, definitely get a sarubobo doll. 🙂




Travelogue Japan: Fresh, Local Produce @ Miyagawa Morning Market, Takayama

Want to shop like a local? Stop by Miyagawa Morning Market in the city of Takayama in Gifu, where you’ll find fresh local produce, crafts, souvenirs, food fresh off the grill, regional specialties, and more.


The market is one of the largest morning markets in Japan with over 60 stalls stretching a length of 350m next to the roaring Miyagawa River which cuts across town. On a sunny day, you can walk down to the river bank and soak in the sights of the clear, rushing river water, in some parts stocked with koi fish.

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The early bird gets the worm – or in this case, the choicest goods! The market starts at 6.30AM, and 8AM in winter until noon.


Undoubtedly a tourist spot, we saw many travelers from China, Korea and even some Western tourists, which is pretty rare beyond the confines of large cities like Kyoto and Tokyo.


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Seller sorting out some beans.

There is another older market in front of Takayama Jinya, called Jinya-mae, which dates back 300 years! Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to pay a visit.


Some sort of colourful corn that I’ve never seen before!

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Vivid displays of vegetables in bright hues. Everything looked so fresh and tasty!

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Aside from vegetables and fruits, there were also stalls selling snacks. Got a bottle of non-alcoholic sake as a gift for the fam.

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Local specialties.


Finally got to try the famous Hida beef! It was quite pricey (like RM15 for a skewer) but good – juicy, flavourful and tender.


While waiting for the guys to finish their shopping, Mariko-san and I had some dango (glutinous rice balls on skewers). One was basted in a sweet-savoury miso, while another had been wrapped in a seaaweed before being grilled. The texture was chewy like mochi with a smoky, slightly charred flavour. Not my cup of tea; I prefer them to be sweet. 😀

Getting There 

The Miyagawa Morning Market is a 10-min walk from the JR Takayama Station.