Translated by Allie
Hina Matsuri - Girls' Day in Japan
Written by Ayako Motokimida
Every year on March 3 we celebrate Hina Matsuri, the Girls' Festival in Japan. Hina dolls are displayed in homes where girls live and special dishes are eaten on this day. Read on to find out more about the traditions related to Hina Matsuri.
Hina Matsuri - A Japanese Spring Tradition with Ancient Roots
March 3 is "Girls' Day" in Japan, celebrated with a festival called "Hina Matsuri" (Doll Festival or Girls' Festival). The custom of displaying beautiful Hina dolls on this day in homes and public spaces dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1868).
Hina Matsuri is a celebration dedicated to girls, during which parents pray for the good health and happiness of their daughters.
This day corresponds to the time when peach blossoms start to bloom. That's why the celebration is also called Momo no Sekku (peach blossom festival).
How Is Hina Matsuri Celebrated?
Although it's not a national holiday, March 3rd is a special day for girls. Families who don't have young daughters might not do anything special for the holiday.
However, many traditions are associated with this festival. In fact, Hina Matsuri celebrations are quite different from region to region. We'll introduce some of these Girls' Day traditions.
Hina Matsuri Dolls
Some families create a display of Hina dolls in their homes, celebrating the good health and happiness of girls everywhere. It's said that Hina Dolls will protect children and keep bad things like accidents and diseases away.
This tradition has its origins in an ancient Japanese belief that bad luck and impurity can be transferred to dolls, which would be thrown into rivers. This was adapted into the festival 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 the imperial family. The dolls at the top 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.
Decorations such as oxcarts, small cupboards, Japanese paper lamps called "bonbori," and orange and peach tree branches are displayed with the dolls.
The facial expressions and costumes of each doll are also different depending on their personality and position.
If families don't have enough space to put up such an elaborate display, they usually display the top tier of the platforms, the dolls representing the emperor and the empress. There are also smaller versions of these dolls.
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 ward off bad luck.
Moreover, in some regions of Japan such as Yanagawa (Fukuoka), Higashi-Izu (Shizuoka), or Sakata (Yamagata), small handmade dolls are displayed using strings. These hanging decorations were born out of the same wish for the children to grow healthy and happy.
Hina Matsuri Food Specialties
Special foods prepared for Hina Matsuri include amazake (a sweet beverage), chirashizushi (a type of sushi), and hina arare (sweet colorful rice crackers).
Amazake is a traditional Japanese 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 allowed to drink it.
Drinking shirozake, which is a traditional sweet sake, was one of the customs to purify your body. But shirozake is an alcoholic drink, so amazake was made with children in mind.
Hina arare are colorful and cute rice crackers. The colors of these rice crackers each 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 celebrating the arrival of spring after the long, cold winter.
People also say that you will be healthy in the coming year if you eat each color of Hina Arare!
Chirashizushi is a type of sushi made with lotus roots, shrimp, and thinly shredded egg on the top of vinegared rice. It's a dish widely enjoyed 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, shrimp are a symbol of longevity, and so on.
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 3.
Enjoy Hina Matsuri!
In some regions, there are festivals with gorgeous displays of Hina dolls that are truly impressive.
If you like the tradition of Hina Matsuri, you can buy Hina dolls on your visit in Japan and bring them home with you. Put them up on March 3 to bring a little bit of Japanese spring tradition into your home!