Translated by Allie
Hina Matsuri - What Is The Japanese Girls' Day All About?
On March 3rd we celebrate the Girls' Festival in Japan. Hina dolls are displayed in each house where there are young girls and special dishes are eaten on this day. Read on to find out more about the unique customs related to Hina Matsuri.
Written by Ayako Motokimida
March 3rd is Girls' Day in Japan, a festival called "Hina Matsuri" (Doll Festival or Girls' Festival).
What is Hina Matsuri?
Hina Matsuri is a celebration dedicated to girls, in which their parents pray for the good health and happiness of their daughters.
This day corresponds to the time when peach blossoms start to bloom. That is why the celebration is also called Momo no Sekku (literally, the peach blossom festival).
How Is Hina Matsuri Celebrated?
Although it is not a national holiday, March 3rd is a special day for girls. Families who don't have young daughters might not do anything special on this day.
However, a tradition of this festival is still passed down until now. Actually, how people celebrate Hina Matsuri is different from region to region. We will introduce here what the Japanese people usually do on this day.
Hina Matsuri Dolls
We create a display of Hina Dolls in our homes, wishing for the good health and happiness of girls. It is said that Hina Dolls will protect children and keep bad things like accidents and diseases away from them.
This tradition has its origins in an ancient Japanese belief that bad luck and impurity can be transferred to dolls, which would be afterward thrown into rivers. This way of thinking was adapted into the festival for wishing the health and growth of girls around the Edo Period (1603 - 1868) when people started to celebrate it by putting Hina dolls up on stands for a short period of time.
Hina Dolls represent what the imperial family was like in ancient times. The dolls on the top tire of the platforms represent the emperor and the empress. The rest of the dolls are three court ladies, five musicians and the minister of the Right and Left who used to support the government in the old days.
There are some decorations such as gissha (oxcarts), small cupboards, Japanese paper lamps called "Bonbori", and orange and peach tree branches displayed on the tire of platforms.
The facial expressions and costumes of each doll are also different depending on their personality and position.
If people don't have enough space to put up every doll, they usually display the top tire of the platforms, namely the dolls representing the emperor and the empress. There are also small versions of these dolls which you can hold in your palm.
Hina Matsuri Food
The special meals for Hina Matsuri are Amazake (sweet drink), Chirashizushi (a style of sushi) and Hina Arare (sweet colorful rice crackers).
Amazake is a traditional Japanese sweet and thick drink made from fermented glutinous rice. Amazake literally means "sweet alcohol" but it has less than 1 percent of alcohol in it. So children are also able to drink it.
Drinking Shirozake, which is a traditional sweet sake, was one of the customs to get rid of bad things out from your body. But Shirozake is an alcoholic drink, so Amazake was made with the children in mind.
Hina Arare are colorful and cute small rice crackers. The colors of these rice crackers have meanings. White represents the earth of the winter, pink and red represent life, while green represents the green shoots in the spring. Hina Arare is a snack showing our expectations toward the arrival of spring after the long cold winter.
People also say that you will live healthy for this coming year if you eat each color of Hina Arare.
Chirashizushi is a type of sushi which has lotus roots, shrimp and thinly shredded egg omelet on the top of vinegar rice. It has been a dish enjoyed widely at celebrations.
The ingredients in Chirashizushi have meanings as well. The lotus root is said to give one the power to see what will happen in the future, shrimps are a symbol of longevity and so on.
Enjoy Hina Matsuri!
Hina Arare and Amazake can be found at any supermarket in Japan when Hina Matsuri is coming up.
You can also buy Chirashizushi which is decorated for Hina Maturi at Sushi shops and delicatessen shops on March 3rd.
There are also some other customs. One of them is "Nagashi Bina" in which people throw dolls made from paper into the river in order to get bad luck away. Another one displaying Hina dolls on tiered pyramid-shaped stands.
Experience Hina Matsuri at Home
If you like the tradition of Hina Matsuri, you can buy the dolls on your visit in Japan and bring them home with you. Put them up on March 3rd to bring a little bit of Japanese spring tradition into your home. Why not try it out?