Hinamatsuri: Girls’ Day Celebration History and Customs

Hinamatsuri, also known as Girls’ Day, is a celebration that occurs annually on March 3rd in honor of girls in Japan.

History

The celebration stems from an old purification ceremony known as "o-harae". The imperial court practiced these rituals twice a year, by writing bad fortunes onto paper, wood, or straw dolls then releasing them into a river or ocean in hopes that they would be swept away. Some regions in Japan still practice these rituals by floating paper boats down rivers.

In the Edo Era, these rituals became popular among common people with a shift towards displaying dolls for protection of health and happiness. The earliest record is from 1625 when the women in the imperial court provided dolls for Emperor Go-Mizunoo’s daughter. When she succeeded the throne in 1687,Hinamatsurilegally became a holiday and the production of various "hina-ningyo" (ornamental dolls) were produced around the country.  

The chirimen zaiku (silk crepe craft) hina-ningyo set my grandmother made. Though my grandparents bought me a larger set when I was born, that set has moved overseas with my parents since. Now, I set up this small set in my apartment to celebrate Girls’ Day even when I’m far away from family.
The chirimen zaiku (silk crepe craft) hina-ningyo set my grandmother made. Though my grandparents bought me a larger set when I was born, that set has since moved overseas with my parents. Now, I set up this small set in my apartment to celebrate Girls’ Day even when I’m far away from family.
 

Customs

At the center of the festivities are thehina-ningyo (ornamental dolls). At the top of the display are the imperial female and male dolls (mebinaand obina, respectively) that represent the bride and groom from aHeian period wedding.

Displays of the dolls range from just one tier (tiers being calledhinadan) to up to seven tiers (shichidan). These tiers can include attendant dolls, musician dolls, peach, cherry, and plum blossom trees, snacks, and miniature household goods such as shelves and swords that would be gifted on a wedding day.

The hina-kazari (Hina decoration) is traditionally bought for girls by their maternal grandparents before theirhinamatsuri debut, or passed down from generation to generation as an heirloom. Thehina-kazari is brought out from storage a few days beforehinamatsuri to be set up and decorated by mothers and their daughters and are taken down immediately the day after on March 4th. Waiting longer to put them away, by superstition, is believed to result in late or no marriage for the girls in the future. However, in recent years, some homes and many festivals around Japan leave the dolls on display for a few weeks or a whole month.

With city life and more moving around than in past generations, some families opt for smaller, uniquehina-ningyo options, such as palm-sized ones made of glass or porcelain, or displays to hang on walls.

Feast

Duringhinamatsuri, girls and their mothers host parties together for friends and family in a vibrant and colorful celebration. Guests enjoychirashizushi (raw fish, vegetables, and/or scrambled egg served on rice in a big decorative bowl),hina-arare(rice crackers),hishimochi (white, green, and pink colored mochi),sakura mochi(red bean paste pastry wrapped in a sakura leaf), andamazake(sweet non-alcoholic sake) orshirozake(white sake). Celebrations often take place in the home where the dolls can be viewed or outdoors for a picnic.

About the author: Nina M. Cataldo is a Japan-born, US-raised hafu (half-Japanese) writer currently residing back in Tokyo. She is a travel writer whose passion is to share the stories of local people and cultures with readers worldwide. When she isn’t off exploring new parts of Japan, she’s busy organizing events for her fellow mixed-Japanese community as the founder of the “Hafu Ladies” group (on Facebook). Follow her travels on Instagram @nextstop_nina and her daily life @ninalalala

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