Hina Matsuri

Japan's Festival Calendar: March 3 Doll's Festival 雛祭り

Hina Matsuri: The Doll Festival, March 3

Dolls Festival, Hina Matsuri.

Every year, in mid-February, families with daughters all over Japan clear space in the home for a set of elaborately-made dolls. This is to celebrate the Hina Matsuri or "Doll Festival".

The hope is that the young girls of the family will grow up to be just as graceful and blessed as the beautiful dolls that they put out every year.

The dolls of the Hina Matsuri are not playthings by any means. The dainty little figurines depict the hierarchy of the Heian Period (794-1192) court life starting with the Emperor and Empress and going down through the ranks.

Hina dolls are dressed in the colourful and luxurious costumes of the day with flowing kimono of many layers and gorgeous colors.

Hina Festival, Dolls Festival.
Hina Festival, Dolls Festival
Hina Festival, Dolls Festival.
Hina Festival, Dolls Festival

Sitting in front of a gilded screen, just as they did in the real Heian court, the Emperor (odairi sama) and Empress (ohina sama) occupy the top tier of a stepped arrangement - a five or seven-tired shelf known as a hina-dan. On lower steps will be attendant ministers, court ladies and musicians, all dressed in full regalia with accessories such as food trays, tea sets and carriages.

Some doll sets are realistic enough to include futon mattresses, bath basins and kitchen tools in a faithful representation of the wedding trousseau of noble families. Such realism on a miniature scale calls for a high level of craftsmanship and many doll sets are exquisite artistic productions.

The set usually consists of around 15 dolls arranged on five to seven steps, with the whole arrangement being from three to six feet long. Often the dolls will be a treasured family heirloom handed down from generation to generation. It is also common for grandparents to buy new sets for their granddaughters and for family and friends to make gifts of dolls. Doll sets can sometimes be seen in shop windows around this time of year and museums often display dolls from days gone by.

History of Hina Matsuri

Displaying dolls in this way dates back to the reign of the Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu (1623-51). It is said that ministers presented a set of hina dolls to his eldest daughter on her seventh birthday and the practice of giving and displaying dolls spread throughout the court and amongst noble families. The festival itself however dates back much further.

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In Ancient China and then subsequently Heian Japan, festivals to pray for health and good fortune were held to mark each of the five seasonal periods. One of these festivals was Momo-no-Sekku, or "Peach Festival".

Dolls began to feature with the practice of making crude paper figurines and setting them adrift on water along with one's sins and bad luck -- a practice which is still observed in some regions to this day.

Even now, peach blossoms are an important part of the Hina Matsuri. They have come to represent happiness in marriage, as well as the feminine traits of gentleness, composure and tranquility.

In days gone by, young girls would hold parties to entertain their miniature guests, offering them sweet sake, cakes and candies. But the party would always have to end as soon as the festival is over, as legend has it that girls who play with their dolls too long have difficulty finding husbands, so the dolls are packed away immediately following the festival.

Hina Festival, Dolls Festival.
Hina Festival, Dolls Festival

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