Girls all across Japan are honoured in an early spring festival featuring decorative doll displays and tasty traditional treats.
Around the middle of February, in Japanese homes, schools, department stores and community centres, processions of small dolls begin to spring up. Decked out hierarchically on red-covered steps, the dolls’ solemn demeanours and traditional clothing give these displays an air of gravity.
Yet in fact, the dolls represent a celebration: the approach of Hinamatsuri, or Girl’s Day, the Japanese festival dedicated to female children and their future health and happiness. The festival falls on 3rd March, and dolls are displayed up to a month before this date. Once past, though, the often elaborate displays are promptly dismantled. Leave them up too long and the daughter of the house may marry late, it is said, though this custom varies by region, with the dolls remaining on display until early April in some places.
Like many Japanese festivals, Hinamatsuri is also celebrated by eating particular kinds of food. A clear soup, hamaguri no osuimono, containing a clam in its shell, accompanies chirashizushi (‘scattered sushi’) – rice topped with morsels such as strips of egg, nori seaweed and mushrooms. Sugared, round rice crackers in pastel colours, known as hina arare, are traditional Hinamatsuri snacks. Sweet shirozake also came to be associated with the festival. Though not drunk so often at Hinamatsuri nowadays, this cloudy, white sake is available in shops around early springtime.
So what is the significance of the regiments of Hinamatsuri dolls? Full sets represent the Emperor, Empress and all their court attendants, and Hinamatsuri began as a ritual in which the dolls were thrown into a river and washed out to sea, taking bad spirits with them. Today, instead of being discarded, the dolls are carefully packed away ready for the following year – a time-consuming task if you have a full display! Instead, many Japanese people now make their lives easier by displaying only two dolls, the Empress and the Emperor, which you can buy in handy glass cases to make the putting up and taking down process even easier.
Whether this is your first or your umpteenth Hinamatsuri in Japan, take the opportunity to admire the intricate doll displays and sample some festive foods (see page 17 for a chirashizushi recipe), even if you don’t have daughters of your own. See the information below for details of Hinamatsuri events around Kansai, or simply celebrate Girl’s Day in your own way with your female friends!
Hinamatsuri around Kansai
• Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto is one of a few places in Japan that still performs the age-old custom of floating dolls down the river on 3rd March to carry away bad luck. www.kyoto-kankou.or.jp/english/info_search/?event_id=4423
• Kobe’s Port Tower has a Hinamatsuri doll exhibition from 1st to 3rd March. During this time Port Tower will be lit up in the colours of a Hinamatsuri doll’s kimono. good-advisor.com/3048.html (Japanese language only)
• Head to Matsuyamachi in Osaka (Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi Line) for specialist stores that sell Hinamatsuri dolls. www.osaka-info.jp/en/shopping/speciality_stores/post_96.html
By Life in Kansai