Hinamatsuri is an important festival in Japan that is held on the 3rd of March. It is sometimes referred to in English as "girls' day" or "dolls' day". On that day, people celebrate girlhood and pray for their daughters' healthy growth. Central to the tradition is the placement of beautifully crafted dolls inside houses with girls. These are displayed from February and are put away on the after the hinamatsuri celebrations are over on March 3rd. There is a superstition according to which if the dolls are kept out until the 4th, daughters will not be able to get married. Hinamatsuri also has its own special foods and song that we will introduce in the sections below. Hinamatsuri is a very culturally significant day, but it is not a national holiday.
Hinamatsuri occurs during the peach blooming season so the peach flower is often used as an ornament with the dolls.
The tradition dates back to the Heian Era (794 - 1185). It was originally a day for girls to play with the hina dolls (雛遊び事). The dolls were made of paper and were depictions of emperors and emperesses. They were sent to drift on rivers as a ritual to cleanse the soul for impurities. The current hina dolls are also crafted to resemble Heian Era's emperors and empresses. It's not entirely clear how the tradition spread throughout the country, but by the Edo Era (1603 - 1869), it had become a nation-wide celebration. The tradition evolved from letting paper dolls flow on rivers to elaborate doll displays on red carpets.
Happy Hinamatsuri Song (嬉しいひな祭り)
There is a song played in a traditional Japanese scale that is the anthem of the festival. Japanese children learn it in school. It is called ureshii hinamtsuri which means happy happy hinamatsuri. Thematically the song is about the dolls and the spring and celebrating that special day dressed in one's finest kimono.
On the occasion of the girls' festival, families prepare some special colorful foods for their daughters.
Shirozake is the special sake served to celebrate hinamatsuri. It has an alcohol content of about 9 percent and a sugar content of about 45 percent.
Hina-arare are roasted mochi pieces that are colored brightly. Arare in itself is the same wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionary) that is not colored.
Hishimochi is a diamond-shaped cake that is usually tricolored, but the coloring does vary by region. Each color has its own meaning. The top pink part is said to be a sign of respect for the ancestors and a color that should bring good health. The white middle part symbolizes the snow that has yet to melt and the green represents the spring.
Ushiojiru is the traditional soup that comes with the hinamatsuri meal. It is a simple soup broth in which clams with their shells are added.
Chirashizushi is the main dish of the hinamatsuri feast. It's actually a type of sushi technically. It's made from vinegared rice in which all kinds of other ingredients are added such as ikura (salmon roe), vegetables, and different types of sashimi on top.
Dolls and Where to See Them
The doll displays are not only in private residences, they are also displayed on large scales in temple grounds and hotels for instance. The emperor and empress dolls are always displayed in the middle.
There are also some other special dolls such as there goninbayashi (五人囃子). They are a 5-member orchestra.
The Sannin Kanjo (三人官女) are the three court ladies located below the emperor and emperess. The many other dolls are representations of important people of the Heinan period.
If you'd like to see some of the most impressive displays, the Kyoto National Museum is a good place to go. It holds an annual special exhibition in February and March.
Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo
In Shinjuku, Tokyo, a good place to see the hina dolls is at the Keio Plaza Hotel. It also holds the event from February through March.
Admiring the hina dolls is a nice way to celebrate the start of the spring. If you are in Japan during this season, make sure to have a look at this important tradition!