Hinamatsuri: Celebrating Girls

A HInamatsuri display in a Tokyo hotel lobby. Photo by David Wiley via Flickr.

As we look forward to the advent of spring on March 20, one of Japan’s most beloved holidays helps us get into the spirit. Hinamatsuri, or Girl’s Day, occurs on March 3, just as the chilly climes of winter begin to show signs of receding.

Hinamatsuri celebrates and nurtures the promise of young girls. It does this primarily through an elaborate display of dolls dressed as members of the imperial Japanese court. In addition to being a favorite toy of many girls, the display represents the family’s hopes that their little girl will be as beautiful, graceful, and fortunate as the little dolls.

A Hinamatsuri display at home. Photo by nansei via Flickr.

A typical Hinamatsuri arrangement consists of multiple tiers, with the Emperor and Empress perched on the top tier, followed by descending ranks of servants: samurai, ladies in waiting, and children. Also included are accessories for the dolls, such as tea sets, dressers, and even bathtubs. A full Hinamatsuri set can be very elaborate and very expensive, and many have been passed down through generations. Hinamatsuri celebrations also include eating special foods, such as hina arare (sweet rice crackers) and sakuramochi (mochi wrapped in cherry leaves).

For the most part, Hinamatsuri is celebrated privately, as a domestic ritual, although public displays and ceremonies do occur. Each family typically brings out their set a few weeks before the holiday, displaying it in the nicest room of the house until the holiday is over. They must take care to put it away promptly, however, as an old superstition dictates that a girl who tarries too long with the dolls will have difficulty finding a suitable marriage.

A close-up of the Emperor and Empress dolls. Photo by hirotomo t via Flickr.

The word hina means small and lovely object, while matsuri is the Japanese word for festival. Historians trace the origins of Hinamatsuri to the reign of the Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu (1623-51), when ministers presented a set of hina dolls to the shogun’s eldest daughter on her seventh birthday, thus beginning a practice that became popular among the noblemen of the day. However, the basic idea of a spring festival to nurture new energy and ward off bad luck dates as far back as ancient China.

At JANM, we’ll be celebrating Hinamatsuri with an origami workshop on Saturday, March 4, at 1 p.m. Longtime museum volunteer and origami enthusiast Ruthie Kitagawa will show you how to make Hinamatsuri-themed cards for your family and friends. The JANM Store also has several Hinamatsuri-related products to help you celebrate; check out, for example, this cute solar-powered Hina doll display, or this beautiful rabbit Hinamatsuri pop-up card.

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