07 February 2023

Hinamatsuri: A Special Day for Girls

The early days of February signal the start of "Hinamatsuri" celebrations. Hinamatsuri is a seasonal festival that honors the healthy growth and happiness of young girls. To commemorate this tradition, homes are adorned with traditional "Hina dolls" that bestow an aura of happiness and dignified elegance. 

Learn about this time-honored festive occasion and join us in celebrating one of the most joyful and happiest festivities of the year. 

Contents

  • Hinamatsuri
  • Hina Dolls
  • How We Enjoy Hinamatsuri Today 
  • A Special Day for Girls

Hinamatsuri 

Hinamatsuri, also known as Momo-no-Sekku (Peach Festival), is a celebratory tradition observed on March 3 to wish for the well-being and happiness of young girls. The custom of celebrating Hinamatsuri originated from "Joushi-no-Sekku," one of the five seasonal festivals that was designated in the Edo period (1603-1867). 

Unlike Children's Day observed on May 5, Hinamatsuri is not a national holiday but is widely celebrated throughout Japan. Happy colors of pink, white and green which are the symbolic colors of Hinamatsuri decorate store windows and classrooms at kindergartens and elementary schools. Adorable sets of Hina dolls gracefully dressed in kimonos adorn households. 

Hina Dolls  

Hina dolls express Japan's deep affinity for dolls and represent century-old traditions from ancient times. These iconic dolls have a significant history and give context to how this festival came about.  

Back in the Heian period (794-1185), commoners bestowed their misfortunes upon paper dolls and set them adrift in rivers in hopes of "washing away" afflictions and illnesses. 

At the same time, children of aristocratic families played a game called "Hina-asobi" also using paper dolls. Eventually, these two separate styles of dolls crossed paths to become the original form of today's Hina dolls.

Following the advancement in doll-making techniques such as "Kimekomi" in the Edo period, dolls retained greater beauty with detailed decorations. Eventually, Hina dolls came to be showcased in households of the general population on Hinamatsuri as "guardian dolls" to protect their young daughters.

Traditionally, a full set includes 15 dolls and various small accessories such as miniature furniture pieces, folding screens and lamps, and are displayed on a seven-step stand. The ensemble emulates the magnificence and grandeur of an imperial court with the life-like Hina dolls and intricately crafted accessories. 

But following the shift in housing with more people residing in smaller living spaces, Hina dolls took on a more compact stature. Today, a basic set consists of two Hina dolls, an emperor and an empress of the imperial court, placed on a black lacquerware plate with a decorative folding screen. 
Traditionally, when a baby girl was born into a family, her Hina dolls were bought by the maternal grandparents, but this long-held custom has slowly altered over time. 

Next, take a look at how people enjoy Hinamatsuri at home in Japan today.

How We Enjoy Hinamatsuri Today

On March 3, family members gather to rejoice and wish for the well-being of the young girls in the family.

Decorations

The fun of Hinamatsuri celebrations begins when the Hina dolls are taken out from their boxes and are carefully arranged for show. There is no exact rule on when to get out the Hina dolls, but generally they are set up after Setsubun which is celebrated on February 3. Branches with plum blossoms usually add to the cheerful atmosphere of the occasion.

Along with the Hina dolls and the plum blossoms, households enjoy many other decor ideas with the Hinamatsuri motif. Tableware and paintings designed with Hina dolls are seen on tables and walls around this time of year. Homes can be spruced up with more than one set of Hina dolls as they come made in various materials such as Washi paper, wood, lacquerware, and are petite in size which make them easy to display on small shelves and tables.

Tanaka Toubou Hinamatsuri Kyo Ware Matcha Bowl Chawan

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Festive Food

When family members gather on March 3, they enjoy the charming Hina dolls together and eat various festive menus including some of the following dishes. In recent years, bakeries have begun to sell cakes with Hina doll decorations and have become popular desserts.  

Chirashi-sushi

This is the main dish served for Hinamatsuri. Colorful and auspicious ingredients including shrimp, lotus roots, thinly cut egg pancakes are arranged beautifully on top of sushi rice.

Clam soup

Accompanying the sushi is clam soup made in a clear broth. When serving this soup, the inner side of the clams is set upwards and clam meat is placed on both sides of the clamshell: this practice symbolizes the wish for a happy marriage of a young girl. 

Hishimochi

This is a triple-layered sweet mochi treat that represents new buds sprouting from the winter snow. The red (pink) and green hues ward off evil spirits, and the white symbolizes longevity and was originally made from water caltrop (Hishi).
Hishimochi, although a symbolic food, is mainly used as a decorative item placed near the Hina dolls. 

Shirozake (White sake)

Shirozake is a cloudy white alcoholic beverage brewed with steamed rice and malt. It was  originally served at Hinamatsuri during the Edo period. However, due to its alcoholic content, a non-alcoholic beverage, Amazake is now the preferred choice as it can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

Hina-arare

An indispensable sweet treat for Hinamatsuri. A mixture of sugar-coated puffed rice and rice crackers colored in the symbolic colors of Hinamatsuri, Hina-arare enhances the subtle soft hues of other decor items. 

A Special Day for Girls 

Hinamatsuri finds its origin in wishing for the happy and long healthy lives of young girls. It is a time that reminds us of the love we have for our family. And  through Hina dolls, families express their joy in honoring their beloved daughters.

After Hinamatsuri, we pass on the baton to Tango-no-Sekku (Boy's Day) on May 5. Stay tuned for our coming seasonal blog that explores the tradition and customs of this special day.

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