Hina Matsuri – What It’s All About


Hina Matsuri (the Doll Festival), AKA Momo-no-Sekku (the Peach Festival), AKA Girls’ Day, is the day when Japanese families celebrate their daughters.

I wrote about it a bit the other day in the Hina Matsuri Tsurushibina post, and I’ll include the text at the bottom, too.


These two dolls represent the emperor and empress at a wedding procession during the Heian Period (794 CE-1185 CE). Fancy that! The Heian Period ended because of that famous Kamakura resident, Yoritomo Minamoto, knocking the Imperial Household on its duff (well, until 1333, when Emperor Go-Daigo and his supporters knocked the Kamakura Shogunate on its own duff, temporarily taking back power).image

This set of dolls is on display at Hakone’s Kowaki-en Hotel. It’s a full seven-tiered set, with dolls on the top five tiers, and miniature furniture, etc., on the lower two tiers.

Tier-by-tier breakdown:

Top tier: emperor and empress, lanterns, flowers

Second tier: ladies of the court with sake-serving equipment, miniature food

Third tier: musicians (drums, flute, singer)

Fourth tier: two ministers with weapons (bows and arrows), miniature bowls and hishimochi, a diamond-shaped glutinous rice treat in green, white and pink

Fifth tier: three samurai/bodyguards

Sixth and seventh tiers: various accessories, like miniature furniture, utensils, carriages, etc.

I learned a little something extra at Kowaki-en today about tsurushibina. Apparently, they are traditionally hung on both sides of the eldest daughter’s set of dolls on her first Hina Matsuri. They were also used as decorations for families who couldn’t afford a set of dolls.

Hina Matsuri Tsurushibina Post Text:

The Doll Festival (Hina Matsuri/Momo no Sekku/Girls’ Day) is just around the corner (well, March 3), and families with daughters—and hotels like Hakone’s Kowaki-en—are setting out their decorations.

Families with daughters display a special set of dolls to bring happiness and health to their girls. The dolls represent the wedding procession of an emperor and empress of the Heian imperial court and are dressed in period kimono. A full set is comprised of 15 dolls, accessories like trees, lamps and food, and is arranged on a five- or seven-tiered display. The dolls vary in size, from quite small to about the size of Cabbage Patch dolls or even bigger. My mother-in-law’s childhood set was so big that it took an entire room in her family’s house to display. Unfortunately, no one is quite sure what happened to the set—WWII interrupted her childhood, so there is speculation her dolls were sold or lost. Too bad! (But then, where on earth would we store them?)

Most families nowadays, though, don’t have room for a full set (nor do they have the time and patience required to set it up and put it away), and so buy a two-doll set of just the emperor and empress, with maybe a few accessories.

The timing for setting up and putting away Hina dolls is important. Out of respect for the dolls, they should be set up mid-February, and taken down within a few days of the actual festival day. To leave the dolls out—forgetting them—is bad luck, and will result in daughters being married later in life—or so the legend goes. Even though (most) people no longer take stock in such superstitions, if you leave the dolls out too long, you risk having the old wives’ tale repeated ad nauseam until the dolls get dusted and wrapped. I might know this from experience…

Other decorations include tsurushibina, the hanging dolls and toys in the photos, which symbolize happiness for a family’s daughters. Not all families hang tsurushibina, though—Hina ningyo (dolls) definitely take centre stage.

Much like Japanese Christmas has its KFC and strawberry shortcake, and Oshogatsu its osechi ryori and—in my family at least—sukiyaki (boy, do I love that family tradition), Hina Matsuri has its own special foods: chirashi zushi (raw fish, veggies, egg, etc., served over sushi rice); special rice crackers called Hina-arare; diamond-shaped pink, white and green glutinous rice cakes called hishimochi; ushiojiru salty clam soup; and shirozake (unfiltered sake) for the grown-ups and amazake (sweet sake with either a low alcohol content or no alcohol content) for the kiddies. The foods are, for the most part, pink, green, white and/or yellow, the colours of Hina Matsuri.


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