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?
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
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.
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.