Matsuri: Dolls' Festival - Hina Matsuri
Hina-Matsuri: A Story of Taking Out and Putting Away
Joanne G. Yoshida
My first knowledge of the Girls' Day Holiday in Japan, known as Hina Matsuri, came in the form of three oversized cardboard boxes. They were carried into my small apartment by my Japanese husband's older sister. One box, which barely fit through the door, was almost as long as my sister-in-law is tall.
I soon understood that these boxes contained a traditional gift of dolls that we were to display in our home every year for the Hina Matsuri holiday, which is celebrated on March 3rd. Yesterday was the tenth time I took the cardboard boxes out from my closet and set up the doll display.
The boxes occupy most of our closet space throughout the year. We squeeze our clothes in the gaps between the boxes and have come to get used to these cardboard 'shelves' as a permanent addition to our closets. This was one adjustment to Japanese life in small spaces that I'd never read about before moving to Japan eleven years ago.
For my daughter's first Hina Matsuri, my sister-in-law set up the display. She took small cardboard boxes and tightly packed black shiny shelves wrapped in paper out of the larger cardboard boxes. She took smaller and smaller boxes out of those boxes, which contained accessories for the Emperor and Empress dolls and their three 'attendant' dolls; including tiny golden water pitchers for the attendants, a fan for the Empress, and a sword for the Emperor.
Pink and white carved mochi, peach blossoms, ju-bako (stacked boxes which represent the lacquer boxes that gorgeous foods are arranged in); and tiny light bulbs to go into the two lanterns are among the other small items we unpack and arrange each year.
My sister-in-law explained where each item went, and advised me to pay careful attention to which box each one came from. I took a photo of the finished display, which I used for the first few years to follow as a guide. As the years when on, I realized the setting up could be done without too much trouble. Once the dolls are in place, I plug in the two lights and turn on the music box.
My daughter and I enjoy the magic that permeates the tatami room, and we remember what a special gift the dolls are. This year her friends happened to be at our home when I was setting up the display, and I asked if they'd like to help. I was pleased at how smoothly and quickly the set-up went with ten hands of ten-year old girls busily unpacking the boxes.
After being closed up in the closets for a year, the dolls were in the presence of girls' laughter and joy. I watched as my daughter and her friends placed the dolls on the shelves while referring to the photo I had taken of the set-up display.
In Japan, boys and girls become adults at age 20. A special ceremony called Sei-jin Shiki marks this coming of age. Now my daughter is ten; she just celebrated "1/2 way to adult-hood" in her fourth-grade class.
I can appreciate the precious-ness of taking the dolls out for Hina Matsuri and putting them away as my daughter's childhood approaches adult-hood over the next ten years. I drink ama-zake and eat arare with my daughter and her friends in celebration and with gratitude on this day for girls to be girls.
Notes about Hina Matsuri Customs
*The custom is that usually the dolls are given by the wife's family, though in my case it was my husband's family who gave them to us.
*The dolls are usually set out on a lucky day, written as 大安 on the Japanese calendar; generally they are set up a few weeks before March 3rd.
*It is believed that the dolls should be taken down quickly after Hina Matsuri to ensure an early marriage for the girl. If the dolls are kept out longer, it is a superstition that this will mean a late marriage.
*Boys Day, which is known by various names, is celebrated on May 5th, which has also become known as Kodomo-no-hi , or Children's day.
* Ama-zake =sweet rice wine
* Arare =colorful bite-sized rice crackers