The Japanese Doll Festival (雛祭り Hina-matsuri), or Girls' Day, is held on March 3.Platforms covered with a red carpet are used to display a set of ornamental dolls (雛人形 hina-ningyō) representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians in traditional court dress of the Heian period.
Origin & Costume
The custom of displaying dolls began during the Heian period. Formerly, people believed the dolls possessed the power to contain bad spirits. Hinamatsuri traces its origins to an ancient Japanese custom called hina-nagashi (雛流し, lit. "doll floating"), in which straw hina dolls are set afloat on a boat and sent down a river to the sea, supposedly taking troubles or bad spirits with them.
The Shimogamo Shrine (part of theKamo Shrine complex in Kyoto) celebrates the Nagashibina by floating these dolls between the Takano and Kamo Rivers to pray for the safety of children. People have stopped doing this now because of fishermen catching the dolls in their nets.
They now send them out to sea, and when the spectators are gone they take the boats out of the water and bring them back to the temple and burn them.
The customary drink for the festival is shirozake, a sake made from fermented rice. A colored hina-arare, bite-sized crackers flavored with sugar or soy sauce depending on the region, and hishimochi, a diamond-shaped colored rice cake, are served.
Chirashizushi (sushi rice flavored with sugar, vinegar, topped with raw fish and a variety of ingredients) is often eaten. A salt-based soup called ushiojiru containingclams still in the shell is also served. Clam shells in food are deemed the symbol of a united and peaceful couple, because a pair of clam shells fits perfectly, and no pair but the original pair can do so.
Families generally start to display the dolls around mid-February and take down the platforms immediately after the festival. Superstition says that leaving the dolls out past March 4 will result in a late marriage for the daughter.
The dolls wear beautiful ancient court costumes of the Heian period (794-1185). The costume of the Empress is called the "juuni-hitoe (twelve-layered ceremonial robe)." Even today the juuni-hitoe is worn at the Royal family's wedding ceremony. Most recently, Princess Masako wore it on the wedding of the Crown Prince in 1993. When wearing the juuni-hitoe, the hairstyle is gathered at the neck to hang down the back (suberakashi) and a fan made of Japanese cypress is held in the hands.
The Expensive Dolls
A traditional set of dolls can be very expensive. There are various grades for the sets, and some full sets cost more than a million yen. Unless there is a set handed down from generation to generation, grandparents or parents buy them for a girl by her first Hinamatsuri (hatsu-zekku). However, since many Japanese live in small houses, royal couple version (with only the Emperor and the Empress dolls) is popular nowadays. There is a superstition that if you don't put away the hina-ningyo soon after March 3rd, the daughter will get married late.
Here are some special dishes for the festival. "Hishimochi" are diamond-shaped rice cakes. They are colored red (or pink), white, and green. The red is for chasing evil spirits away, the white is for purity, and the green is for health. "Chirashi-zushi," "sakura-mochi (bean paste-filled rice cakes with cherry leaves)," "hina-arare (rice cake cubes)" and "shirozake (sweet white sake)" are also often served.
The origin of Hinamatsuri is an ancient Chinese practice in which the sin of the body and misfortune are transferred to a doll, and then removed by abandoning the doll on a river. A custom called "hina-okuri" or "nagashi-bina," in which people float paper dolls down rivers late on the afternoon of March 3rd, still exists in various areas.
Here is a Hinamatsuri song called "Ureshii Hinamatsuri (Happy Hinamatsuri).
Akari o tsukemashou bonbori ni
Ohana o agemashou momo no hana
Go-nin bayashi no fue taiko
Kyo wa tanoshii Hinamatsuri
Let's light the lanterns
Let's set peach flowers
Five court musicians are playing flutes and drums
Today is a joyful Dolls' Festivalｌ
"~ mashou （～ましょう）" is a verb ending that indicates the person's volition or invitation in formal situations. It is similar to the English expressions of "Let's ~."