82 year old Japanese woman’s “hinadan” mobile app: sometimes it takes new technology to uncover ancient traditions

By | June 6, 2017

Yesterday in WWDC, Apple’s yearly developer conference, there was a brief mention of their oldest attendant, Masako Wamakiya (若宮正子), who actually has her own iPhone application in the Apple mobile app store. Masako, at 82, decided she wanted to create apps that senior citizens after she retired from her job at a bank.

The app is called ‘hinadan’ (雛壇) and involves ornamenting a multi-level platform (the ‘hinadan’) with traditional Japanese dolls (hina ningyou, 雛人形) in preparation of the hina matsuri (雛祭り) festival held each year on Mar 3. You can see more details about these things here.

The app itself is extremely simple, both graphically and in terms of the flow of the game. You simply select dolls one at a time and try to drop them in the correct place on the platform. If you get the location correct (正解です) then the doll is placed, if not (間違いです) then you get to try again. Once you place all the dolls you are given a congratulations screen and the option to do it again.

The app isn’t the best way to study Japanese (at least for beginners), since there is only really one page of any significant text (reproduced below), and it’s somewhat advanced, lacking Furigana to help you read tricky Kanji characters (which to make things worse, are written in an artistic, but difficult-to-read font). But if you are into more historical and classical Japanese, you might enjoy this.

Ironically, what I liked about this app was it’s simplicity and purity–the fact that it was clearly designed by someone who wasn’t trying to make money or even a hit mobile app, but rather just trying to make something they enjoyed.

While I have seen these doll platforms before in person on at least one occasion (the last time was in Portland’s Uwajimaya grocery store, where it was on grand display), I think the average English speaker has no idea of what this app is about, and the fact there is no translation makes it even harder to understand. In fact, there is one or two reviews to that effect.

But I think it’s amazing that it took cutting edge technology for some people to have their first experience of this aspect of traditional Japanese culture. If you had asked me what type of app a Japanese senior citizen would enjoy, I’m pretty sure I’d have absolutely no idea. Hopefully we can see more uses of modern technology being used to preserve and inform others about history of various countries.

In doing research for this article I found that Masako actually did a short Ted talk (in Japanese), which I think would be worth listening to, not just for Japanese practice but to learn about this interesting woman.

In case you are curious, I did manage to successfully adorn the hinadan once, and was greeted with this message:

“お見事!御殿の間取りをよう覚えておじゃったな”

While I understand the meaning of this statement (it’s complimenting me for doing a great job and remembering the doll arrangement), the word “おじゃった” caught me off guard. It appears to be a dialect of Kagoshima, though I am not sure if it is still in use much.  ”よう” is an older word which means “よく” (well/skillfully) here.

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