Hina Matsuri – Girl’s Day

Hina Matsuri, or Girl’s Day is a popular observance in Japan on March 3rd.  The holiday is meant to foster health and happiness for young girls throughout their lives.  The most prominent aspect of the holiday is the display of traditional dolls.

Girl’s Day has its roots in the idea that dolls and other inanimate objects could contain spirits, especially bad spirits.  Ancient Japanese believed that such objects, like the terracotta haniwa found at various kofun, could contain spirits, so they buried many recreations to serve their favored emperors in the afterlife.  The hina doll tradition grew from the Heian period (794-1185).  Young girls, as they still do today, played with dolls.  Since the ancients believed such dolls could draw out spirits, the dolls would be disposed of at sea, and replaced with new dolls.

Eventually, the practice of displaying dolls from February through March 3rd came about.  Such displays are common throughout Japan, especially at department stores, schools, and in the homes of families with young girls.

The dolls are either bought for new daughters when the first festival comes, are made, or gifted by relatives.  The displays can very, but essentially depict a Heian Era Emperor, Empress, and court on descending layers.  The Emperor’s cap and clothes are representative of that era.  These dolls, do not get played with, but are merely displayed each year for a brief time, and then returned to their packing boxes.  Most elementary schools I’ve visited will put up a display in February.

In addition to the Emperor and Empress on the top-level, there are palanquins, and carts, guards, servants, and even simulated mochi. The flowers are peach blossoms which are said to represent feminine characteristics.

Of course, as with many festivals and celebrations in Japan, various locals have their own traditions.  The placement of the various dolls can change with location.  Some displays only show a few levels, and families surely have their own special traditions for the holiday.

This year’s Hina Matsuri is still a week away and it will be interesting to see if anything is different here than it was on my previous island.  I’ll update this post as I find out more!

Of course, not all displays are store-bought.  Here’s a small one I found in one of my elementary school’s art rooms.

As with many holidays in Japan, there’s a little something extra for lunch.  Elementary and Junior High students got a packed of multicolored, very sweet, puffed rice for desert.  Though its ‘girls day’ the boys got some too.

One of the common foods eaten on Hina Matsuri is a sushi ‘cake’ called Chirashi Zushi.  Since sushi really only refers to the rice (white rice with rice vinegar and sometimes sugar), the cake qualifies.  Its topped with good things bound to promote health and prosperity, what Hina Matsuri is all about.  While Chirashi Zushi is eaten at other celebrations as well, Girl’s Day is perhaps the most popular.  Here’s a version of the dish that was at the moai gathering I attended this year.

This version is made with egg, pork, nori (seaweed), crab meat and other great stuff.