Hinamatsuri: Japan's Girls' Day
Hinamatsuri, known as Girls' Day or sometimes Doll's Day, is a Shinto festival on March 3 every year to celebrate the health and happiness of girls. The counterpart for boys is Kodomo no hi, known as Boys' Day or Children's Day (click here for more information on Kodomo no hi). Unlike Kodomo no hi, Hinamatsuri is not an official national holiday. However, families with girls will prepare beautiful gifts and special treats to celebrate it.
What is Hinamatsuri?
Hinamatsuri is meant to honor, celebrate, and inspire young girls all over the country. Unlike traditional Japanese festivals that are usually large gatherings held in public places, Hinamatsuri is celebrated primarily at home with close friends and family. On Girls' Day, Japanese families pray that their daughters' lives will be filled with good luck, wealth, and health.
On this day, Japanese families with daughters will display Hina Ningyo (decorated dolls) in traditional Heian-period court dresses on an altar covered with a dankake (red carpet). Since Hina Ningyo can be very expensive, they are often passed down from generation to generation as heirlooms. Or, parents and grandparents will buy a Hina Ningyo set as a birth gift to their newborn baby girl. Anyway, families will make sure their daughter has a set of Hina Ningyo before her first Girls' Day.
History of Hinamatsuri
Hinamatsuri is one of the Japanese Gosekku (five important annual festivals in ancient Japan). These festivals were formed under the influence of Chinese philosophy and are celebrated on the first day of the first month, the third day of the third month, the fifth day of the fifth month, and so on. On these days, rituals are performed and special dishes are prepared to ensure good luck.
Hinamatsuri, celebrated on March 3, was originally called Momo no Sekku (Peach Festival) because the peach tree blossomed around the beginning of March according to the lunar calendar. The appearance of dolls in Momo no Sekku dates back as far as the Heian period (794-1185). An ancient Chinese custom held that one's sins and misfortunes could be transferred to a straw doll, which was then removed by discarding the doll in a river. This purification ritual spread to Japan. Japanese families with girls would make paper dolls and throw them into the river to remove all bad luck and disease. This custom is called Hina-okuri or Nagashi-bina and is still practiced in some parts of Japan today.
These amulet dolls are the prototypes of the exquisite Hina Ningyo. The tradition of displaying Hina Ningyo began in the early Edo period (1603-1868). In those days, they were exclusive toys for girls of nobility, for example, Princess Okiko, daughter of Emperor Go-Mizuno-o. When Princess Okiko succeeded to the throne as Empress Meisho in 1687, she popularized the festival as Hinamatsuri. Since then, artisans throughout Japan have been developing elaborate Hina Ningyo for the festival. Influenced by Hina-asobi, a Japanese doll game, Hinamatsuri has been associated with the celebration of the health and development of young girls.
How to Celebrate Hinamatsuri
Families usually start setting up their altars in mid-February, on which Hina Ningyo are arranged in a specifically tiered order. Dairi-bina, two dolls representing the emperor and the empress, sit on the top tier. For many families, this is the only tier. However, the tiers of altars can be up to seven. The lower tiers feature dolls of retainers, court musicians, ministers, and so on. On this day, many Shinto shrines will display thousands of Hina Ningyo on the steps, attracting visitors nationwide and worldwide. According to legend, a girl is unlikely to get married if the altar isn't removed on time because the altar symbolizes the court wedding in the Heian period. Therefore, families will remove the altar immediately on March 3.
Pink is closely associated with Hinamatsuri, because it is the color of peach blossoms and a symbol of femininity in Japan. Many public areas are decorated with different shades and styles of pink hanging. Many of the traditional Hinamatsuri foods are also pink, including:
- Hishi-mochi: A diamond-shaped and multi-layered rice cake. Each layer is in different colors: pink for peach blossoms, white for snow, and green for the coming spring.
- Hina-arare: Special rice crackers only for Hinamatsuri. It is flavored with soy sauce or sugar depending on the region. It is brightly colored and usually comes in white, pink, and green.
- Chirashi-zushi: Sushi rice topped with a beautiful medley of sashimi and other ingredients. Its different layers present a variety of vibrant colors.
- Ushiojiru: It is a salt soup with clams. The clam shells symbolize the unity of a couple.