Hinamatsuri is a cultural holiday in Japan, the annual festival for girls and dolls that customarily spreads warm, pastel colors across homes, department stores and schools. On March 3rd, Hinamatsuri marks the day of the year when young girls are celebrated, and their happiness and health venerated through traditional dolls that are put up for display. The Shinto holiday originated in the early 1600s during the Edo Period (1603~1867), and carries on to this day through the decor, food and superstitions that encompass it.
Hinamatsuri and its dolls go hand in hand; the dolls serve as both a protection against evil spirits and a symbol for the pure delicacy of a girl’s youth. But these dolls are far from plastic Barbies– they wear courtly attire from the Heian Period (794~1185) as a nod to an imperial spring wedding; the detail in their clothing, faces, hair and ornaments marking them as works of art rather than toys. The dolls tend to come in a set that is placed on a red-felted tiered platform. This set, called the Hinadan (Hina referring to the dolls and Dan meaning platform), prominently features an emperor and empress at the top tier in front of a golden screen representing the imperial family, followed by three ladies-in-waiting, and below them five male musicians. On the fourth level perch two ministers with trays of food, while three guards flank the fifth step below them.
The sizes of these sets vary. Household sets tend to include five to seven platforms that contrast with the extravagant sets in department stores and shrines that have been set up as fashionable and cultural decor. Whether a Hinadan is bought by a family when the first daughter is born, or is passed down through the family by each generation, the Hinadan represents one of the most valuable and cherished possessions in the home.
Putting the dolls up can be done up to a month in advance, but they are quick to be taken down after the celebration on the 3rd. This is because of the superstition surrounding the festival: leaving the Hinadan up any longer will hinder the chances of the family’s daughter being married. It is said that each additional day the dolls are left out is an extra year as an unmarried woman.
One of the most awaited perks of the girl’s festival is the food. Halfway through February, supermarkets begin selling hishi-mochi to be given as offerings to the dolls, and to be eaten by the handfuls. This diamond-shaped rice cracker is multi-colored, coming in mostly pink, white and yellow to represent flowers and new growth, and also to compliment the colors that surround the entirety of the Festival.
Despite what some may think, Hinamatsuri is different from Children’s Day, another Japanese holiday. Formerly known as Boy’s Festival, while Hinamatsuri is known as a religious celebration, Children’s Day stands as a national holiday to celebrate all children, and is commemorated on May 5th. Children’s Day, or Kodomo no Hi, is known for carp kites (koinobori) that fly from banners and buildings to symbolize each family member in a household.
Despite Japan being a country largely dominated by men, women are slowly beginning to be brought to the forefront of society. In this, Hinamatsuri is evolving to encompass not just the young, but women of all ages as well.
So for those with Hina dolls– it’s time to set them out: so long as you remember to put them away in time.