Today, March 3rd, is Hina Matsuri. Hina Matsuri, or “Girl’s Day,” began during the Heian period (794 – 1185). It’s also called Momo no Sekku, or “Peach Festival,” because peach blossoms signal the beginning of spring.
In an early tradition called Hina Nagashi, or Doll Floating, straw dolls were set on boats and sent down the river and out to the sea, supposedly taking any bad luck or spirits with them. In the Edo period (1603–1868) the holiday changed, and now it’s also celebrated with tiers of dolls. The number of tiers can range from 5 to 7 (or even 60, if you go to the Tomisaki Shrine in Chiba!)
Hinamatsuri is a time for parents to pray for the good health and success of their daughters. A long time ago the doll tiers were only for aristocratic children who could afford them; now they’re everywhere! This set is in our City Hall:
There are also several traditional foods eaten around this holiday. For instance, I got this package of mochi at the grocery store last week:
The green mochi is uguisu (named after the Japanese bush warbler) and the pink is sakura (cherry blossom). The uguisu was interesting (it tasted rather green, if I can use that to describe a flavour), and the sakura was sweet and delicious! Both are traditional spring flavours. Pink, green, and white mochi is a common sight on many store shelves in the spring.
Other traditional foods eaten during Hinamatsuri include:
- hishi mochi – pink, white, and green mochi layered and cut into diamond shapes.
- chirashi zushi – “scattered sushi,” a bowl of sushi rice topped with raw fish and vegetable garnishes.
- ushio jiru – a clear clam soup with the clams still in the shell; supposedly clam shells are considered a symbol of a happy couple, because a pair of shells closes perfectly.
- hina arare (pictured below, courtesy of Wikipedia) – colourful bite-sized crackers made from glutinous rice and soy sauce, sometimes called snow pellets.
- shirozake – white sake.
Families set up the displays in February and take them down immediately the day after, because, according to superstition, if the dolls are left out past March 4th the daughter will marry late. Each tier holds different dolls: the Emperor and Empress, attendants, musicians, ministers, guards, and various accessories that might be found in the palace.
The first tier at the top is the most important. Here sits the Emperor (o dairi sama) and the Empress (o hina sama):
The second tier has the three court ladies (san nin kanjo) and the third tier has the five musicians (go nin bayashi):
The two court ladies on the outside stand while the middle sits, and each holds something related to drinking sake. In this particular set, there’s also two little tables of mochi in between them.
Each of the musicians holds an instrument, while the singer holds a fan.
The fourth tier holds two ministers (daijin) and on the fifth are three samurai to protect the Emperor and the Empress:
Of the two ministers, one is young and one is old. They flank two tables of hishi mochi and two tables set with food.
The three samurai are called, from left to right, the Maudlin Drinker (pictured below), the Cantankerous Drinker, and the Merry Drinker. They’re also flanked by a mandarin orange tree and a cherry tree.
The sixth and seventh tiers hold furniture, vehicles, and other items that might be found in the imperial residence. Storage boxes and drawers, kimono chests, a mirror, braziers, tea ceremony sets…
There’s even a palanquin and an ox-drawn carriage with a set of lacquered food boxes for when they travel!
The detail of these dolls are beautiful! I especially love the clothing!
In my opinion, spring is the best time to come to Japan! In March, besides the fantastic Hina Matsuri doll sets on display, the plum and sakura trees start blooming. The weather warms up, the air is sweet, fragrant treats appear in sweet shops…and nothing beats drinking with friends in the park beneath the sakura blossoms!
Until next time! またね！
My Pinterventures (includes a great Chi Chi Dango recipe, if you want to make mochi!)
Kyoto National Museum (includes great pictures of dolls throughout the centuries!)