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Hinamatsuri – A Festival of Dolls

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/22 Traditional Culture , ,

Today, March 3, is Hinamatsuri (雛祭り) in Japan. Though hina (雛) literally means a young bird or a chick, the day is also called Doll’s Day or Girl’s Day. On this day, families with girls wish their daughters a successful and happy life. Families with young daughters mark this day by setting up a display of ornamental dolls (雛人形 hina-ningyō) inside the house. They offer rice crackers and other food to the dolls. These dolls represent the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians in traditional court dress of the Heian period.

Festival Origin

This festival had its origin about 1,000 years ago in the Heian Period (794-1185). It is a traditional custom to display ceremonial dolls on tiers of shelves covered with scarlet carpet. The dolls are dressed in the fashion of the people of the ancient court. Formerly, people believed the dolls possessed the power to contain bad spirits. Hinamatsuri traces its origins to an ancient Japanese custom called hina-nagashi (雛流し, “doll floating”), in which straw hina dolls are set afloat on a boat and sent down a river to the sea, supposedly taking troubles or bad spirits with them. People have stopped doing this now because of fishermen catching the dolls in their nets. They now send them out to sea, and when the spectators are gone, the fishermen take the boats out of the water and bring them back to the temple and burn them.

Hina Dolls Display

Families generally start to display the dolls in February and take them down immediately after the festival. Superstition says that leaving the dolls past March 4 will result in a late marriage for the daughter.

The size of the dolls and number of steps vary, but usually the displays are of five or seven layers; single-tiered decorations with one male and one female doll are also common.

hinamatsuri

A multi-layered hina doll display. (Photo by Goran Zec on Flickr)

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The emperor doll. (Photo by Goran Zec on Flickr)

hinamatsuri_empress

The empress doll. (Photo by Goran Zec on Flickr)

Hina Doll Placement

If multi-layered, the top tier is reserved for the emperor and the empress. A miniature gilded folding screen is placed behind them, just like the real Imperial throne of the ancient court. On the second tier are three ladies-in-waiting, and on the third are five male court musicians. Ministers sit on either side of trays of food on the fourth step, and the fifth row features guards flanked by an orange tree to the left and a cherry tree to the right. On the sixth and seventh tiers, a variety of miniature furniture, tools, carriages, etc., are displayed. Examples on the sixth tier are haribako (針箱, a sewing kit box), daisu (台子, utensils for the tea ceremony), hibachi (火鉢, braziers) and other items used within the palatial residence. On the seventh tier are hanaguruma (花車, an ox drawing a cart of flowers) and other items used when away from the palatial residence.

In other parts of the world, Hinamatsuri is also celebrated in Florence (Italy), with the patronage of the Embassy of Japan, the Japanese Institute and the historical Gabinetto Vieusseux. It is also celebrated in Hawaii.

 References:

1. Hinamatsuri. Wikipedia.

2. Hina Matsuri. Web Japan.

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