Hina Matsuri II

Japan's Festival Calendar: March 3 Hina Matsuri 雛祭り

Hina-Matsuri: Thank Heaven for Little Girls Back to previous article

Stephanie Plewes

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The air is crisp, the flowers are in bloom, and in many homes an ornate display of tiny, well-groomed dolls cloaked in rich imperial costumes, is the object of everyone's affection.

Yes, it is March 3rd and this day marks the annual celebration of Hina-matsuri (Girl's Day Festival), throughout Japan.

The word hina means small and lovely object; matsuri is the Japanese word for festival. Sometimes also referred to as Hina-no-Sekko or Momo-no-Sekku (Peach Blossom Festival), this holiday marks both the onset of spring and a day of tribute to all the little girls of Japan.

The holiday is set just as the winter's cold is lifting and the blossoms on the trees are beginning to appear, providing a beautiful backdrop to a day which celebrates both the beauty and vibrancy of spring and that of the young girl. This is not merely a timely coincidence; the date is set amongst the most beautiful time of year in order to employ the flower as a metaphor for the young girl: the growth, beauty, and hopefully the successful blossoming into womanhood.

On the day of Hina-matsuri, I arrived at my town's preschool celebration, where I was immediately bombarded by my own group of giggling, squealing small and lovely' objects, who tugged me into a room where they blissfully pointed out all the ways that they had helped prepare for today's special celebration.

There sat an elaborate display of ornately dressed dolls (hina ningyou the traditional dolls that characterize this holiday) and food set out on a tiered stage covered in red carpeting. On the table beside it sat an array of paper dolls that the children had constructed and decorated themselves.

Hina dolls are displayed mainly in homes for private recognition of this holiday, but in many major cities, one can view larger-scale displays available to the public until early April. There are generally no large public festivals, as this holiday is mainly a private ritual.

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

Typically, for a few weeks leading up to the big date, a delicately arranged doll display is set up in the nicest room in the house. The Hina dolls are dressed in ancient Imperial Japanese costume, with complete sets consisting of fifteen dolls and their accessories.

The most important couple, the Emperor and Empress, is situated on the top tier. The subsequent tiers hold the servants of the royal family, carefully arranged according to rank. These consist of five samurai, three ladies-in-waiting (which serve the Emperor), and a bottom row made up of children. The display also includes accessories for the dolls, including a closet, a dresser, and a sewing box, among others.

These dolls can be quite expensive, but they maintain a strong sense of sentimentality, as many sets are two or three generations old. Older tradition held that when a girl was married, the dolls were passed to the daughter in preparation for her own offspring as a token by which to remember her family after she moved into her husband's family's home.

But, as generations have passed and traditions have changed, the dolls are now passed down to newborn girls at the time of birth. These dolls are promptly taken down in homes at the close of Hina-matsuri, for it is believed that if the dolls are not removed on the day of the festival, the girls may have prolonged waits for marriage in the future.

After viewing and listening to the explanation of the dolls on display, a large group of ojichan and obachan (elderly men and women) were ushered onto the school grounds and I was dragged outside to join a large circle, where I stumbled my way through the traditional Hina matsuri song and dance.

My natural clumsiness was compounded by the fact that all of the old men and women, as well as the toddlers at my feet, knew every glide and step. The group dances were followed by picture stories and puppet shows that demonstrated the importance of the Girl's Day Festival, and topped off with a song and dance performance by the students in traditional Japanese costume, who jostled about as they banged on pots and pans.

Little girls are not alone in receiving the honor of this joyful day; a similar holiday is celebrated for boys on May 5th, to wish good luck and prospering health during the boys' growth.

Instead of Hina dolls, the boys receive samurai dolls that represent strength and loyalty. The festival is also characterized by koinobori, a flag with a carp insignia. The carp, which swims against the current upstream, is a symbol for strength and overcoming obstacles, much as the blossoms symbolize fruitful wishes for the girl.

Hina matsuri, Dolls Festival.
Hina matsuri, Dolls Festival

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