Girl power the Hina Matsuri way
The Hina Matsuri, or Doll Festival, is primarily a custom for families with girls. Growing up in a family with all boys, we never had the opportunity to decorate with hina dolls at home on March 3, although I remember my mom always wished we could.
(March 3 is also called Momo no Sekku, or Peach Festival, which also marks the coming of spring.)
Starting around the beginning of February, each family with daughters starts to display sets of dolls in their living rooms to celebrate Hina Matsuri – much like Christmas trees are displayed in the U.S. in December. Hina dolls are also on display at several public places such as shopping centers, schools and community centers for everyone to enjoy.
“Hina Matsuri is a Japanese family tradition that includes three generations; grandparents, parents and the daughter will participate in selecting a doll for the daughter,” said Tsuyoshi Kamii, a Japanese doll owner and aficionado. “There are still some families who display three generations of dolls in their homes, grandma’s, mother’s and the daughter’s. The whole family celebrates this day and prays for the daughter’s happiness in the beauty of springtime.”
When you look at hina dolls, you will notice there are variations in the arrangements. The most typical setup is seven tiers with 15 dolls on red cloth. Other setups include five tiers, three tiers or just one tier.
The average price for three tiers with five hina dolls is the equivalent of about $1,500 to $2,500, according to Sakura Kajino, a curator at Meguro Gajoen gallery. The price varies depending on quantity and quality of dolls.
These days, more people tend to purchase a simple set of two dolls. This is because the dolls are costly, require a lot of care when stored because they are very sensitive to moisture and infestation, and they also require a lot of storage space, according to Kajino.
It can be quite interesting to compare the differences between each doll, such as their gestures, facial expressions and costumes. These differences reflect the craftsmanship, region and time in which they were made. Some look childish, round and smiling, while others appear to have elegant and sophisticated faces.
If you look carefully at older hina dolls, you can even tell whether they were made in the Kansai or Kanto region.
“You’ll notice that the empress’ hands are outside of the clothes on Kansai dolls, while empress’s hands are hidden in the clothes on Kanto dolls,” said Kajino. “Their faces have some differences as well. Kanto dolls have bigger eyes and a slight smile on the face, while Kansai dolls’ faces are sharper and more sophisticated.”
During the Edo Period (1603-1867), girls invited their friends over to play with these dolls during this season. This was considered role playing for being a good wife in the future. The dolls were therefore treated as a symbol of a girl’s aspirations for a happy marriage, according to the Japan Doll Association. Today, hina dolls are no longer used as toys, only as decorations.
This time of year you’ll see variety of hina dolls sold at stores or online, including traditional handmade dolls as well as character dolls like Hello Kitty or Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse as emperor and empress. They can make for interesting souvenirs for girls back home.
Hina dolls are usually carefully packed away after March 3, however, some families may leave them out during the entire month of March to celebrate Girls Day until the cherry blossoms bloom – as a reminder that spring is just around the corner.
Festive traditions wish girls, women well
As spring slowly approaches, families with daughters begin to take out an elaborate set of dolls they have stored in the back of their closet in order to celebrate Girl’s Day.
Hina-Matsuri, or Doll Festival, is held annually on March 3. “Hina” means girl or princess. The holiday is a time set aside to pray for young girls’ growth and happiness.
During the Edo Period (1603-1867), some people believed the hina dolls possessed the power to contain bad spirits, thus protecting the owner. This ancient tradition is traced back to the Japanese custom of “hina-nagashi,” or doll floating, in which paper dolls were put into a boat and sent down a river to the sea, allegedly taking troubles or bad spirits with them.
Hina dolls are typically displayed on multiple-tiered platforms covered with red cloth. The top tier holds two dolls representing the “dairi-sama” (Emperor) and “o-hina-sama” (Empress).
The second tier holds three of the “san-nin kanjo” (court ladies), each holding a receptacle for pouring sake. The third tier holds five of the “make go-nin bayashi,” or musicians, each with a musical instrument. If you look carefully, you find the singer holding a fan without any instrument.
The remaining tiers on the platform hold a variety of miniature furniture, tools and carriages with two of the “zuijin” (ministerial dolls), which may be displayed to the right and left of the fourth tier.
According to popular lore, if the family forgets to retire the whole doll display before the evening of March 4, the family’s eldest daughter will not marry before the next year.
During the festival of Hina-Matsuri, people generally have a good time, drinking a sweet sake and eating “chirashi-sushi,” or red, white and green lozenge-shaped rice cakes, and “hina-arare” (colorful popped rice). The red rice cakes are for warding off evil spirits, the white ones symbolized purity and the green ones are for good health. Very often, a dish containing clams is included, such as clam soup with spring herbs.
- Torii, U.S. Army Garrison Japan
Women’s day in Okinawa:
While some families and especially organizations on Okinawa may display dolls for Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival), in keeping with the mainland tradition, locals here have their own take on the March 3 celebration – Hamauri, or Women’s Day.
Hamauri is celebrated according to the lunar calendar (April 21 this year). For this traditional event, not only girls but also women go down to the beach and dip their hands and feet into sea water to purify the soul and pray for good health.
Many women take advantage of this tradition to dig the clams on this day. In fact, you will likely see many women and families at local beaches celebrating and having a great time on Women’s Day. Some families will also prepare and enjoy a customary Okinawan dish called “sanguachiujyu” in a traditional box set which includes red beans, rice, squid and “mocha” rice cakes.
- Tetsuo Nakahara, Stripes Okinawa
The myth of Akamata
It is said that Okinawa’s Hamauri tradition originated from the legend of Akamata, the Ryukyu odd-tooth snake. According to lore, if Akamata hatched seven times on the lid of a large Okinawan pot that was left on the ground, it would deceive people. So these lids were never to be left lying on the ground.
One day, however, a girl mistakenly did so and Akamata hatched seven times. The snake then disguised himself as a man, wooed the girl and impregnated her. A neighbor later told her that her lover was not really a human, advising her to follow him home one day to see where he lives.
So she did as the neighbor said and discovered his true identity after he returned to his home in a cave deep in the mountains. Spying on him from afar, the girl saw Akamata bragging to his fellow snakes how he made a human girl pregnant. He also let it slip that the only way she could prevent having his baby was to go down to the beach and purify herself with sea water on March 3.
The girl came returned home and went down to beach on March 3. As she purified herself with sea water, a numbers of tiny snakes came from her and were swept away in the ocean.
- Source: Okinawa City Government
Where to see hina dolls
Hyakudan Hina Matsuri
Date: Jan. 23 – March 8, Time: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Place: Meguro Gajoen (3 mins. walk from JR Meguro Sta.)
The collection of valuable hina dolls from all over Japan will be displayed in traditional Japanese exhibitions space. This year’s edition features more than 500 hina dolls especially from Hyogo, Okayama and Hiroshima, highlighting the region’s strong traditions. One of the best hina doll display in Tokyo. They have an English brochure. Admission: adult- 1,500 yen ($15), children-free.
Katsuura Big Hina Matsuri
Date: Feb. 20 – March 3, Time: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Place: Tomisaki Shrine and several other places in Katsuura city.
More than 25,000 hina dolls are displayed around Katsuura City. There is a children’s parade and other events and many stalls selling food and festival goodies. Hina dolls are lighted up after sun goes down. One of the biggest hina doll festivals in Kanto. Don’t miss it.
Uchiura Hina Matsuri
Date: Feb. 28 – March 15, Time: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Place: around Kintaikyo Bridge (15 mins. drive from Iwakuni)
Hotels, stores and local houses around Kintaikyo Bridge will display traditional hina dolls. Enjoy walking around the street and check out historical hina dolls of Iwakuni.
Omurajyuku Hina Matsuri
Date: March 1 – March 23
Place: Omura city Central Arcade (about 1 and a half hour drive from Sasebo Naval Base)
Each store displays hina dolls during the event. There will be tea ceremony, attractions for kids and sweets contests.