Here’s What You Need to Know About Japan’s Famous Doll Festival
It helps drive away evil spirits!
Every March 3, the Japanese celebrate a tradition called Hinamatsuri. This is when families with young girls display decorated Hina Ningyo (Hina dolls) at home. Here’s a closer look at its origins and the rituals observed during this celebration.
It may have originated in China.
There are many theories on the origins of Hinamatsuri. One of them has to do with the Joshi Festival that was first held in China over 300 years ago. When it was passed down to Japan by the envoy of the Tang Dynasty, it evolved into the imperial court event called the Joshi Purification Ceremony, where people wrote their own birth dates down on a doll—a practice that was believed to help transfer the disaster they will face onto the doll—before they released it down the river.
It gradually became known as the peach festival.
During the Heian period, paper dolls became popular in the imperial court and among aristocratic girls. The concept of playing with the paper dolls and the Joshi Festival eventually came together and became a ceremony to pray for children’s happiness and drive away evil spirits from children using a pair of male and female dolls. When the date was fixed on March 3 during the Edo period, it became a popular celebration called the peach festival, where people prayed for the growth and happiness of young girls.
The dolls were used for exorcism.
Hinamatsuri also became an event about exorcising evil spirits. The spiritual power of the dolls was said to be responsible for driving away evil spirits in the natural world. People also started praying through the dolls for various wishes. Through time, the dolls became toys given to the children and changed into a cute item. The custom to release the dolls down a body of water gradually gave way to the practice of displaying and enjoying the dolls at home.
The dolls were originally used for playing house in the imperial palace.
As with most traditions, the ceremony spread out to the common people after the middle of the Edo period. The Hina platform was made in the image of the stairs of the imperial court, and the dolls changed into gorgeous Hina Ningyos.
The best time to decorate a Hina Ningyo is during the spring.
This is because Hinamatsuri also means celebrating spring. This 2019, spring began on February 4, but it also coincides with a lot of important events such as setsubun (February 3), which is when the season changes, Usui Day (February 19 in 2019), which is a day for good match, or taian, which is the most auspicious day of the old six-day Japanese calendar. Depending on the region, some people also choose to decorate after the eighth day of the New Year.
Peach blossoms play an important role.
People decorate with peach blossoms during Hinamatsuri because these flowers are native to China. They are also said to bestow longevity and provide protection against evil and harm. It also happened that during the time the Joshi Festival was held in the lunar calendar, the Japanese plums had just finished blooming and the cherry blossoms had yet to bloom, leaving the flowering peach blossoms to be the center of attention. Peach flowers represent many different things, including “goodness of mind,” “I am yours,” and “unprecedented in the world.”
Certain dishes are eaten during Hinamatsuri.
There are customs to eat traditional celebratory dishes, which make use of spring ingredients, during Hinamatsuri.
Chirashi-sushi is often eaten at Hinamatsuri solely because of its auspicious ingredients. For example, the shrimp correlates to longevity because it reminds people of a bent waist and whiskers, characteristics of someone who has lived a long life. The lotus with a hole represents foresight, while the beans mean health and diligence. The carrots and Mitsuba leaves bring glamour to the dining table and attract spring.
Depending on the region, clam soup is also popular dish. Clam is a shellfish used for playing during the Heian period, and because shells come in pairs, it is said that nothing will fit perfectly without them. In fact, these clams represent parents’ prayers for their daughter to meet their best match and make it together for a lifetime.
Hishimochi is a stack of diamond-shaped rice cakes that come in three colors. White is associated with snow and cleanliness, green is associated with earth and health or longevity, while pink is associated with peach and the warding of evil. Wormwood is blended into the green rice cake, honey fruit into the white rice cake, and gardenia into the pink rice cake. The diamond shape represents the mind and a desire to avoid disaster.
Hina-arares are bite-sized sweet rice crackers made from sugar and mochi. They come in pink, white, yellow, green, and white to express the four seasons. Because of the abundance of starch in the crackers, it is deemed good for the health. They are also used to represent the parents' wishes of “making their daughter happy all-year-round.”
People have been drinking Shirozake (white sake) since the Edo period. It comes from Toukasyu, a drink made from sake and peach blossoms, which was originally from China. During the Edo period, the practice of mixing mirin (sweet cooking rice wine) with white sake, steamed koji and rice (sweet cooking rice wine) became popular. Because Shirozake has 10 percent alcohol, Amazake (sweet fermented rice drink) is prepared for children.
Provided by Japan Walker™, Walkerplus™, and Tokyo Walker™ (8 February 2019)