Hina Matsuri

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Hina Matsuri (Girls' Day, Dolls' Festival)

Type of Holiday: Folkloric
Date of Observation: March 3
Where Celebrated: Japan
Symbols and Customs: Dolls, Peach Blossom
Colors: The dolls associated with Hina Matsuri are displayed on shelves covered in red cloth. Symbolizing the sun, red is the color of vigor and good fortune.


Sometimes referred to as Girls' Day, Hina Matsuri is observed by Japanese families with daughters by displaying sets of DOLLS , often with elaborate costumes and tiny utensils and furnishings, on elevated platforms. The practice originated 1,500 years ago during the reign of Emperor Kenso. On the third day of the third month, the Emperor's household and guests would seat themselves along the banks of a stream. Lacquer sake cups (sake being an alcoholic drink made from fermented rice) were set adrift upstream. By the time a floating cup reached one of the guests, he or she had to have composed a special poem. If successful in doing so, he or she could pick up the cup, fill it with sake, and drink it.

Purification rituals were also associated with this day. Small paper dolls were thrown into the river in the belief that they would carry away sin and unhappiness. This custom gave rise to amagatsu, which were dolls made from two pieces of bamboo or wood, crossed in the middle and covered with a kimono. Buddhist verses were written on paper and tied to the doll's waist. The dolls were placed near children's beds as a charm to ward off evil and illness. Although boys usually gave up these charms at the age of 15, girls would continue to use them until they were married. In rural areas, dolls made of straw were often hung in a doorway or at the entrance to a village to protect against sickness, disaster, and other evil influences.

Skilled doll makers soon began to produce more sophisticated dolls. In the early seventeenth century, Emperor Gomizuno-o's daughter became Empress Meisho on her seventh birthday. Her mother celebrated the occasion by displaying dolls for her in their Kyoto palace. Eventually other wealthy families adopted the practice, and additional dolls were added to the display, along with miniature tables, chests of drawers, and other doll furnishings. Some of these doll sets became family heirlooms, handed down from one generation to the next. By 1770, Hina Matsuri was a national holiday in Japan. It remained so until 1874, when its holiday status was removed. But the custom of displaying dolls on elevated platforms regained its popularity, and today the celebration is observed throughout Japan. It is primarily an opportunity for young girls to socialize, inviting their friends over to see their doll displays and serving them diamondshaped cakes, fruit-shaped candies, and tiny bowls of rice boiled with red beans. The "utensils" that accompany the dolls have become extremely elaborate and refined: gold lacquer writing-boxes; racks for airing kimonos; tiny picnic chests complete with miniature lacquer plates and sake bottles; illustrated books only an inch tall; and everything needed for a formal Japanese tea ceremony. After the festival is over, the dolls and furnishings are wrapped up carefully, boxed, and put away for safekeeping.



As described above, the earliest Japanese dolls were used as scapegoats. After the Japanese began to manufacture paper in the seventh century, paper dolls could be easily obtained from a priest. They were rubbed all over the body to absorb the person's evil thoughts and tendencies; then they were thrown into running water so the evil would be carried away. Later on, people got in the habit of placing these dolls on their kamidana or deity-shelf before using them. This may be where the custom of arranging the dolls on shelves or platforms originated.

Today the dolls displayed on Hina Matsuri are arranged on a hinadan, a five- to seven-tiered shelf covered with bright red fabric. The Dairi-sama (Court People) occupy the top shelf and consist of a male-female couple representing the Emperor and his Empress. On the second tier are three Kanjo (Ladies-in-Waiting) who represent the three stages of life: youth, middle age, and old age. The third tier is filled with five Court Musicians who play the taiko (drum), okawa (lap drum), kotsutsumi (shoulder drum), and fue (flute). The fifth musician is usually the utai or singer, but there may also be dolls playing the gong, mouth organ, oboe, or kaen taiko (large standing drum). The fourth tier consists of two Yadaijin (Ministers) who function as guards rather than statesmen. Three Jicho (Footmen) occupy the fifth tier: one with a laughing face, one crying, and one angry. Sometimes they are called Sannin Jogo (the Three Drunks) because each face reflects a mood associated with drinking. The remaining lower tiers are for the miniature furniture, utensils, and other articles belonging to the dolls.

The dolls that were originally used to cleanse children from sin and protect them from illness now serve a cultural and educational purpose: to teach Japanese girls how to behave like young ladies and how to take care of their valuable belongings. Hina Matsuri

Peach Blossom

Hina Matsuri originally took place a month later than it does now, after the warm spring weather had arrived. Sometimes it was called the Peach Blossom Festival (Momo-no-sekku), because it was a popular time for families to get out in the countryside and enjoy the blossoming trees. Part of the outdoor celebration was to cast crudely made paper dolls into the river and thus get rid of disease and misfortune.

The peach blossom remains a symbol for the traditionally feminine qualities of beauty, gentleness, and peacefulness that Japanese girls hope to acquire by the time they are married. It is customary to include a branch of peach blossoms, either real or artificial, as part of the doll display. Since the peach is also a symbol of fertility and happiness in marriage, a branch is often placed in each of two ritual sake bottles that stand between the Emperor and Empress on the top tier of the hinadan or doll stand.


Araki, Nancy K., and Jane M. Horii. Matsuri Festival: Japanese-American Celebrations and Activities. San Francisco: Heian International Pub. Co., 1978. Bauer, Helen, and Sherwin Carlquist. Japanese Festivals. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965. Casal, U.A. The Five Sacred Festivals of Ancient Japan. Rutland, VA: Sophia University in cooperation with Tuttle, 1967. Dobler, Lavinia G. Customs and Holidays Around the World. New York: Fleet Pub. Corp., 1962. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005.


Japan National Tourist Organization www.jnto.go.jp/eng/indepth/history/traditionalevents/a70b_fes_hina.html

Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival)

March 3
Hina Matsuri is a festival for girls, celebrated in homes throughout Japan since the Edo Period (1600-1867), when doll making became a highly skilled craft.
A set of 10 to 15 dolls (or hina ), usually unmatched family heirlooms from various generations, is displayed on a stand covered with red cloth, the stand having at least three and up to seven steps. Dressed in elaborate antique silk costumes, the dolls represent the emperor and empress, ladies-in-waiting, court ministers, musicians, and servants. Replicas of ornate furnishings are part of the display, as are miniature dishes of foods offered to the emperor and empress. People visit each other's homes to admire the dolls.
In parts of Tottori Prefecture, girls make boats of straw, place a pair of paper dolls in them with rice cakes and, after displaying them with the other hina, set them afloat on the Mochigase River. This custom supposedly dates back to ancient times when dolls were used as talismans to exorcize evil; a paper doll cast into a river signified the washing away of human misfortune.
Japan Information Network, Japan Center for Intercultural Communications
2-7-7 Hirakawacho
Tokyo, 102-0093 Japan
81-3-3263-5041; fax: 81-3-3230-4107
BkFest-1937, p. 196
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 72
BkHolWrld-1986, Mar 3
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 540
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 126
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 200
HolSymbols-2009, p. 360
JapanFest-1965, p. 72
References in periodicals archive ?
Her grandmother took it out each year to decorate for the Doll Festival.
Get charmed by Hina Matsuri--the Doll Festival or Girl's Festival, in which families with girls wish their daughters a successful and happy life, with a display of dolls and peach blossoms and feast on traditional sweet sake and chirashi sushi (colourful sushi).
At Kyoto, Japan's original capital city, watch Japanese women celebrate the Hina Matsuri doll festival this March and pray for their daughters' health and happiness.
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March 3 in Japan is Hina Matsuri, a doll festival for girls.
The doll maker released the year's theme dolls as variations of hina dolls originally for the March 3 Doll Festival to pray for girls' happiness.
Today, many Japanese girls and boys attend doll festivals until they are fifteen years old.