Hinamatsuri: The Festival of Girls, and Dolls
Hinamatsuri, also known as Girl’s Day, or the Doll Festival, is a holiday celebrated in Japan on March 3 each year. One of the five seasonal festivals, or sekku, Hinamatsuri celebrates girl children and prays for their health and happiness in the coming year. During Hinmatsuri, families with daughters will display a set of elegantly crafted dolls depicting members of the imperial court in their traditional attire. The dolls are placed on a stepped platform covered with a red carpet, with the two figurines on the top step said to represent the emperor and empress. The displays can contain up to seven tiers, with each tier holding dolls which represent different members of the imperial court in order of rank.
The dolls themselves can be as simple as folded paper constructions, or as intricate as delicately carved and dressed statues, depending, of course, on the family’s budgetary constraints. The dolls are typically put out a few days before Hinamatsuri, but removed fairly promptly upon the holiday’s passing, as leaving them out too long is thought to delay a girl’s prospects for marriage.
Hinamatsuri historically began as the Peach Festival, a day when people would take time to view peach blossoms and celebrate the coming of spring. The tradition of displaying dolls came into being in 1625 as part of a gift made for the emperor Go-Mizunoo’s daughter Oki-ko. Oki-ko’s ladies in waiting presented her with an ornate set of dolls to play with as toys and the custom to display similar dolls to ward evil spirits away from girl children soon arose from that event. When Oki-ko took her father’s place as Empress Meisho in 1687, the name of the holiday was officially changed to Hinamatsuri.
Along with displaying dolls, a number of auspicious special foods are eaten during Hinamatsuri. Chirashi sushi, inari sushi, clam soup, hina arare, and strawberry daifuku mochi are all popular and commonly eaten foods for Hinamatsuri. Foods containing sakura blossoms and strawberries, which are evocative of springtime in Japan, are also popular during this holiday. Between lovely decorative dolls and delicious traditional food, Hinamatsuri is an exciting holiday for girls in Japan.