This Saturday (3 March) is Girls’ Day or Dolls’ Festival (Hinamatsuri) in Japan. As you might expect, this day is an occasion to pray for the health and happiness of girls in Japan. Like a lot of Japanese festivals, Hinamatsuri has an interesting history and practices, so let’s take a look…
Traditionally, people display dolls dressed in Heian period court costumes on a red carpeted platform from the end of February to March 3. The dolls are arranged hierarchically, featuring the emperor, empress, attendants and musicians, and the platforms can vary in size. If there’s a new baby girl in the family, parents or grandparents might buy them special set of hina dolls or pass on dolls held in the family.
Families had better remember to put the dolls away after Hinamatsuri, as there’s a superstition that forgetting to do so will mean the daughters will struggle to find a husband. Not that a modern woman is defined by her marriage status, of course!
The origins of Hinamatsuri have spiritual roots, like most Japanese festivals. The practice of displaying dolls can be traced back to the practice of hina nagashi, the practice of ‘doll floating’, in which households with girls made hina dolls out of straw to sail down the river, taking away misfortune with them. It’s likely this practice was influenced by ancient Chinese ones, in which the sin and misfortune of the body are transferred to a doll, which is then floated away. Some people still release paper dolls into rivers after Hinamatsuri.
Despite the Heian court costumes, the practice of displaying dolls to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck did not kick off until the 17th century, during the Edo period. Japan held another festival on the third day of the third month before that time, but there is no record of dolls being displayed earlier than this.
As you would expect from a festival, there is also traditional food and drink. The drink of choice is shirozake, a strong sweet sake, and diamond-shaped rice cakes, hishi-mochi, are placed by the hina dolls and symbolise fertility. You might also eat chiraizushi, clam soup, edamame maze-gohan, mochi or a layered chirazushi sushi cake.
Assuming you aren’t actually in Japan and celebrating Hinamatsuri, happy International Women’s Day for 8 March!