Hinamatsuri: Celebrating The Day of the Dolls

Japanese culture is truly interesting. Their joyful culture shows through the abundance of festivals present all year long. In a way, it shows how the Japanese consider a lot, even the simplest of things, truly worth celebrating. These festivals also reflect how much the Japanese value and respect their own tradition - enough to hold these yearly traditions for centuries. In fact, plenty of these traditional festivities originate from before the unification of Japan, and to this day they are still remembered and celebrated.

Local festivals are very common in Japan. Each prefecture, for example, has at least one local festival that they are known for. Some of the more traditional areas like Kyoto have more than one matsuri celebrated annually. To add to that, Japanese temples also celebrate an annual festival of their own to honor the gods and goddesses. Some of the festivities are seasonal - such as Winter Illumination Festival. One of the most popular, and perhaps one of the oldest traditional festival happens to be the Hinamatsuri. In Japanese, it means “Girl’s Day” or “Doll’s Day”, and it is a popular festival that is widely acclaimed all over Japan, and is celebrated every 3rd of March.

For those who are planning to visit Japan, but are not fortunate enough to time his or her visit during the 3rd of March, there are also several museums that hold ningyo’s or dolls on display as cultural crafts. A good example would be Kyoto’s Museum of Traditional Crafts. Interested tourists can easily search and research about cultural travel tips from sites such as Tokyoway.

The Origins of Hinamatsuri: How the “Day of the Dolls” Came to Be

The roots of Hinamatsuri goes a long way back - between the years 700’s to 1000’s, during the time of Heian. The Heian period signifies that the capital of the Japanese Empire is in Heian, now Kyoto, which also serves as the place of origin of the Hinamatsuri. The Heian period was a memorable point in time for Japanese culture, as it served to be an equivalent of the Renaissance period of the west.

During this time, different forms of art, literature, and music flourished. Aside from the arts, religion also played a big role during this time, with Buddhism and Taoism ideologies from neighboring China becoming more popular in Japan. In a way, the Hinamatsuri is a fusion of two elements - art and religion.

Hinamatsuri evolved from an old practice of doll-floating during the Heian era. “Hina” in Japanese means doll, so doll-floating was called hina-nagashi.This tradition was celebrated during a festival called “Nagashi-bina” in Shimagasho Shrine. This festival was of religious nature, as participants believed that the dolls would keep the children safe, healthy, and would prevent bad luck.

Originally, straw dolls were sent down the rivers Takano and Kamo to float on a makeshift boat. During the ancient times, allowing the dolls to float through the river was a gesture meant to prevent bad luck, as they believed that bad luck would float away into the river with the dolls. However, soon enough, the people realized that letting straw dolls float away into the river was not good for the environment. For one, the dolls became a nuisance later on to fishermen as they would end up tangled in the fishing nets.

Later on, the practice during Hinamatsuri was changed. Dolls were still sent out into the bodies of water for ceremonial purposes, however, persons in charge made sure that it would be possible to retrieve the dolls from the sea afterward. The dolls are collected after the ceremony and are burned within the premises of the temple. 

The whole celebration of Hinamatsuri begins a month prior to the actual festival day. During the month of February, families have already started preparing for the festivities. This means that the dolls are already displayed a month prior to the actual date. Ironically, as soon as the festival ends, the dolls removed as quickly as possible. This stems from an old belief during the ancient times which says that the children from families who do not immediately remove the dolls would have a hard time finding true love and getting married in the future.

Understanding the Correct Order of the Doll Set in Hinamatsuri

 During the Hinamatsuri, there is a seven-tier doll display which has a prescribed arrangement culturally. Each tier has its own significance. Of course, the top tier holds the two most important dolls, known as the imperial dolls. One doll represents the Emperor holding a baton, while the other represents the Empress holding a fan. These dolls are usually placed in a set of garden trees, and surrounded by little details such as cherry blossom origami’s, miniature lanterns, and the like. In Kansai areas, the Emperor would be placed on the right, while Kanto areas placed the Empress on the left.

The second tier holds dolls that represent three court ladies doing different gestures. For example, the first court lady on the right is holding sake, while the second court lady on the left serves as the backup sake-bearer. The central figure is the third lady in the middle, who is the seated and is considered to be the sake bearer. The next tier, which is the third tier, holds five musician dolls holding different instruments. The instruments featured in this tier are the: small drum, large drum, hand drum, and the flute. The fifth doll does not hold a musical instrument but is rather the singer. 

The next tier, which is the fourth, holds two dolls with a philosophical significance: the two ministers. The first among the two ministers the Minister of the Right, who is depicted by a doll of a young person. In contrast to this, the Minister of the Left is depicted by a doll of a much older person. The two dolls are placed side by side to each other, with the Minister of the Right appearing on the viewer’s left while Minister of the Left will appear on the viewer's right. On their tier, there are miniature figures of food, orange trees, and cherry blossom trees.

The fifth tier is interesting as it depicts three samurai dolls who are serving the emperors in the top tier. However, these characters are not depicted in a fighting position which is typically expected from samurai’s. Instead, they are shown drinking with three different emotions. The first samurai is drinking sadly, while the second samurai is drinking angrily, and the last samurai is drinking happily. Obviously, they are meant to depict three contrasting emotions.

The sixth and the seventh tier of the doll display is usually used to hold miniature of everyday life items such as furniture, tools, and food. These items are meant to represent the objects that can usually be found inside the Imperial Palace.

In the recent years, the popularity of Hinamatsuri Festival for foreigners has inspired more and more westerners to start collecting their own set of Hinamatsuri doll displays. These are usually pricey and can get more expensive depending on the level of craftsmanship and the materials used. Avid “ningyo” or doll collectors usually own not just sets for Hinamatsuri, but also from an equivalent Boy’s Day. 

Traditional Japanese Songs Heard During Hinamatsuri

 Since the event is meant for children, the songs featured during the festival. In traditional Japanese culture, a Hina Matsuri Song has been created to represent the festive day. This song is aptly titled the Hina Matsuri Song. The lyrics of the song are simple as it features four lines that depict a joyful festival for Hinamatsuri. This song is considered to be one of the traditional songs of Japan. 

Japanese Food Eaten During Hinamatsuri Festival

Ever since the olden days, there were already prescribed food and drinks associated with the Hinamatsuri. It has been customary that these food and drinks be offered during the festivities, and it comes to no surprise that this tradition has been kept through the years.

Of course, Japanese celebrations would always involve sake, which is a unique form of wine that is native to the Japanese. This type of drink is made from fermented rice. A specific type of sake called the shirozake has been associated with Hinamatsuri. Every year, it is impossible not to celebrate Hinamatsuri without shirozake.There are also accompanying snacks to the shirozake. A special type of crackers, in particular, are popular during Hinamatsuri celebrations. These crackers are usually small, with sweet and salty tastes as they are seasoned with sugar and/or soy sauce. The taste itself varies depending on the region as each area has their own preferred way of making these snacks. Their popularity during Hinamatsuri festivals has earned them the name hina-arare. 

Another customary food during Hinamatsuri celebration is a type of sushi called Chirashizushi. The components of a Chirashizushi are similar to basic Japanese sushi. Sticky Japanese rice is used as the base of the sushi, seasoned with sugar and vinegar, and topped with raw fish or “sashimi”. Other ingredients may be added to the sushi, such as vegetables since there is no prescribed recipe for the Chirashizushi - making it extremely customizable depending on taste preference.On the other hand, another rice-based snack during Hinamatsuri is in the form of a mochi The hishimochi is a pretty standard rice cake. However, it’s most stand out feature is its shape, since it is shaped like a diamond. Lastly, a shiro based soup called ushiojiru which contains clams is served during the festival. The clams are there for a significant reason, as they see clams as a symbol of a united and peaceful couple. The reason for such is because a pair of clam shells fits each other perfectly, and won’t fit the other sides from different clam shells.

On the other hand, another rice-based snack during Hinamatsuri is in the form of a mochi The hishimochi is a pretty standard rice cake. However, it’s most stand out feature is its shape, since it is shaped like a diamond. Lastly, a shiro based soup called ushiojiru which contains clams is served during the festival. The clams are there for a significant reason, as they see clams as a symbol of a united and peaceful couple. The reason for such is because a pair of clam shells fits each other perfectly, and won’t fit the other sides from different clam shells.

 Japanese Crafts: Make Hinamatsuri Origami Dolls

Since the popularity of Hinamatsuri flourished during the time when traditional crafts were also at its peak, it comes to no surprise that the festival has already influenced several craft pieces. Of course, traditional doll making is already a given since the festival is centered on dolls.However, it has definitely influenced other mediums of crafts, and even art such as music, literature, and paintings.

Origami, which is the art of paper folding, a very popular craft from the ancient days of Japan is also given the spotlight during Hinamatsuri. Usually, some of the miniature displays are made from little origami models. These are often the trees, flowers, and other background elements. However, the festival has also inspired origami practitioners to recreate the whole doll set, which includes the characters from the five different tiers using origami.

It is not that difficult to create a set of Hinamatsuri dolls through origami. A good instructions manual should be able to provide ample help and information for the one crafting the origami dolls. Thanks to Google, it is easy to search for tutorials that focus on making origami of Hinamatsuri dolls. Of course, these tutorials vary in technique and materials used. It is completely up to the one creating the origami to pick a style that would fit his interest and skill level.

Souvenirs and Gifts During Hinamatsuri

Tourists who have experienced Hinamatsuri live may opt to buy souvenirs to bring home. Usually, parents can find gifts that are fit for their own young girls back home. Below is a list of gift items, souvenirs, and memorabilia that one may opt to purchase during the festival. There are even specialized stores that focus on souvenirs and gifts that are anchored on Hinamatsuri. 

A good example of these stores is Art Nomura, which is located in Kobe City. This store is one of the most popular shops to buy kakejiku, which means hanging scrolls, as they have been in business for over 40 years already. One of the most popular motifs of their hanging scrolls is doll themed ones such as the Tabachina and Hina Daruma Dolls. One of their most popular gift items which foreigners typically buy is the Hinamatsuri version of these doll scrolls, which usually depict the Emperor and Empress in different doll types.