Each year on March 3rd, Japan celebrates its Girls’ Day with the Hina Matsuri or Doll Festival. The festival celebrates young girls in Japan, wishing them healthy growth. The contemporary festival celebration originated from Hina-nagashi, wherein the past dolls in straw boats were set afloat onto a river in order to guard from evil spirits. This custom is still done today in the festival in Kyoto.
Leading up to the festival, families in Japan who have female children display a set of traditional dolls. Traditionally, families that have girls in the family acquire a set of these dolls after the first girl is born, usually inheriting them or through purchase. The dolls are representations of happiness, health, beauty for girls.
The custom of displaying the dolls is said to have begun during the Heian period of Japanese history, from the late 8th century to the early 12th century. The dolls in fact represent the hierarchy of the imperial court at the time, and are arranged on the display platforms.
The dolls are intricately crafted pieces in themselves. The doll bodies are primarily composed of fabric, usually reinforced with wood or straw on the inside. The face and hands are usually hand-carved, hand-painted wood. The dolls’ hair was traditionally made with real human hair, but silk has also been used in more recent years.
Woven fabrics with traditional patterns are used for the dolls, similar to the woven fabric used to make kimonos. The fabrics are layered intricately and decorated with different ornaments depending on the type of doll.
Each doll has beautiful, intricate details. From the 17th Century to the late 19th Century, doll making as a craft surged when prominent families commissioned elaborate sets to show off their wealth.
While most families usually put out traditionally crafted doll sets, today there are many contemporary variations of the hina dolls, for example those portrayed by Disney characters beloved in Japan.
The dolls are usually promptly taken down the day right after the festival (March 4), with the superstition that if they are left out too long, the girls in the family will have late marriages.
Apart from the doll displays and festivities usually done at a local shrine, the festival is also characterized by the uniquely colorful food made for the occasion.
The traditional festival foods include colored candy, rice cakes (mochi), and sweet rice wine. The special ball-shaped, colored rice crackers made for the festival are known as Hina-arare. The brightly colored, delicate foods are made of course to appeal to girls.
Hina Matsuri is a great start to the spring season in Japan–filled with color, happiness, and well wishes, which although are intended mainly for girls, surely bring joy to everyone who participates.
With spring almost here, the cherry blossoms are getting ready to bloom!