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Everything You Need to Know About Hinamatsuri

March 3 is a special day for girls in Japan as they celebrate Hinamatsuri, also known as the Doll's Festival. This is a day to pray for young girl's health and happiness.

By 3 min read 5

There is a special day for everyone in Japan—elders, young adults, workers, emperors, boys, and yes, girls. Held annually on March 3, Hinamatsuri (doll festival) is a traditional holiday that blends pink colors and royal dolls.

You might even be overwhelmed by the limitless shades of pink around this season, displayed in homes, shopping malls and konbini (convenience stores). The sudden appearance of ornamental dolls everywhere might also raise some questions.

Here is everything you need to know about Hinamatsuri.

What is Hinamatsuri?

Mother and daughter decorating Hinamatsuri.

Historically, Hinamatsuri was a holiday during the Heian period that celebrated the lunar calendar’s peach blossom season. Hence, the holiday is also known as Momo no sekku (peach festival).

Momo no sekku originated in China but was imitated by Japan’s imperial court. Eventually, it would spread among all classes and become an annual festival. To pray for children’s health and safety, paper dolls were floated down a river in a practice known as nagashi-bina (doll floating). Once Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar, the event no longer coincided with the peach blossom season, but peaches (and pink) are still symbolic of the holiday.

The Imperial family was a symbol of hope and prosperity for the commonfolk.

Ladies of the court would often gift princesses with paper dolls decorated like members of the imperial family for hina asobi (doll play). During the Edo period, Emperor Go-Mizunoo’s daughter was known to display her dolls on a stand with the emperor and empress dolls on top, representing the actual royal hierarchy. Dolls became more widespread through Japan and became more elaborate in design. Soon, people began emulating the princess’s tachibina (standing dolls).

After the princess succeeded her father, she became Japan’s last empress, Empress Meisho, and the holiday was officially known as Hinamatsuri—a tradition that has continued to today.

Beyond the tower of the dolls

Hinamatsuri dolls displayed at Shimotori Shopping Street in Kumamoto.

A hinadan is a Hinamatsuri stand and a hinakazari is a complete set of dolls. A hinakazari has seven tiers and 15 dolls: the dairi-bina (emperor and empress), sanninn kanjo (three female attendants), gonin bayashi (five court musicians), zuishin (two court ministers) and jicho (three court attendants).

Although dolls can be simple—even made of paper—they get pretty expensive. A complete set can cost upwards of a million yen (about US$9,300), so you can see why some families just focus on the emperor and empress, also known as the tono (lord) and hime (princess). Many families, especially older generations, will pass down dolls as heirlooms. It’s important that girls have the emperor and empress before their first Hinamatsuri.

By displaying dolls once a year, parents pray for their daughters’ long and healthy life.

In the days leading up to March 3, mother and daughters will set out the hinadan. Nothing is stopping dad and brother from helping, but traditionally, their holiday is May 5, Children’s Day (once known as Boy’s Day).

The imperial family was a symbol of hope and prosperity for the common people. Thus, the dolls represent the same for their children and it’s important to treat them well. Otherwise, you’re inviting bad luck into your home. By displaying dolls once a year, parents pray for their daughters’ long and healthy life.

Hinamatsuri traditions

Colorful Hinamatsuri mochi.

The hinadan must remain up for few days after the ceremony as putting it off right away is considered bad luck. Some people believe you must store the dolls away by the end of March 3. If not, your daughter could be cursed with a late marriage. Getting married in your 30s? The horror!

On the day of Hinamatsuri, families get together and enjoy traditional dishes such as chirashi-zushi (sushi-rice topped with raw fish and other lucky ingredients), clam soup, hina-arare (colorful rice crackers) and hishimochi (diamond-shaped multi-colored rice cake) while drinking shirozake (white sake).

A number of shrines and towns also still practice doll floating, such as Sumida Park near Azumabashi Bridge in Tokyo and Awashima Shrine in Wakayama. You can also find elaborate doll displays such as the massive hinadan at Tomisaki Shrine in Chiba.

And of course, you can’t forget the peach blossoms.

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  • The tradition here is usually to set up the Hinadan in mid-February, and it must come down straight after Hina Matsuri, or there will be bad luck. The superstition is that the girls in the family will get married late.

    • You are right, but I prefer not to call such folk beliefs ‘superstition’ because I do not want to seem disrespectful towards Japanese. Furthermore, this folk belief makes sense. Japanese believe that actions matter. After all, the essence of Shinto is one’s course of action. Shinto is a way. The same thing can be said about the ancient religion of the Chinese, of which my family and I are adherents. Chinese folk religion or sometimes called Chinese polytheism is a way. An old name of this religion is Shendao in Chinese. Shen means God(s). Dao means way. Our actions in life define us.

      Shendao – or Shenism as some refer to it (because we worship the Shen, divine beings) – has been brutally oppressed for a long time and many adherents have therefore been practising it in secret. It is no easy task to observe the ancient rites in a society that does not value but detest authentic Chinese traditions. Communists have become somewhat more tolerant towards Chinese polytheism, but still they view the more authentic or traditional forms of it as merely feudal superstition. They want to have only Communist-approved versions of Chinese polytheism. Whilst Shinto was not brutally oppressed for a long time, Shinto nevertheless had a difficult time. Despite all the difficulties Shinto faced, it survived.

      Shinto was even restored to ancient glory by the Meiji Restoration, which I think should inspire any Chinese nationalist for a similar event in China. The Japanese managed to revive their old religion, the Chinese should do the same in my humble opinion. To return to my point, the ethnic religion of the Japanese is about a certain course of action. The belief that girls in the family will get married late if the dolls are not put away in time makes perfect sense when one considers that Japanese essentially feel actions influence the destiny of the world. So actions matter really a great deal. If the rite is not properly performed, i.e. if people do the wrong things like leaving out the dolls too long after the event, it will bring bad luck.

      I do not think of this as superstition, but as proof of the importance of action in Japanese culture. Japanese and traditional Chinese value action more than mere beliefs. Christians talk about beliefs all the time, but we prefer to take action and to do so in the right – i.e. the divine – way. That is also why it matters how the dolls are positioned. Arrangement also matters a lot in Chinese polytheism. We are not vain people for paying atttention to visual things. In fact, we are in harmony with the world we observe because we think this world matters. For instance, Japanese believe the Kami can be found here in this world. The Kami are forces that are one with the world. So this world is divine to the Japanese. They focus on the here and now.

      • Jinhan Davis says:

        I enjoyed reading the content you’ve shared. I now actually see how the beliefs can actually be true in our world, in general. All of our frequently repeated behaviors and thoughts add up and greatly influence our life’s reality. Therefore, if someone is regularly late in completing their tasks they will not likely become successful in their life dreams and goals.
        Yet, if someone is usually on time and has a regularly successful work ethic and good relationships but still feels fear and worry after forgetting to take down their hina-matsuri display, I would definitely call that case a superstition.

    • Anthony Joh says:

      I checked with the author of the article and she said that:

      “Some believe that leaving the display too long is not good because it might mean a late marriage for their daughter. I didn’t mention this in the article because this superstition differs from region to region.”

      • It seems to be a common custom through-out Japan. That said, the dolls are believed to bring good luck, so hopefully that cancels out any bad luck due to leaving them out too long.



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