In early spring, we are going to celebrate "HINA-MATSURI." You ask: “What is this?”
The "HINA-MATSURI" or the Dolls' Festival as it is simply referred to, is a festival held on March 3rd to pray for young girls' growth and happiness, but it has more meaning.
What Is The Origin?
Over 1,000 years ago, there was a belief that people could transfer their misfortune to dolls made of paper, by breathing on them and throwing them into a river. This action would provide spiritual protection and good luck.
Through this cultural event, people believed they could purify themselves.
It is called "NAGASHI-BINA" (which literally means Floating Hina Dolls) and has continued for over a millennium. Some prefectures (i.e., states) in Japan now use real dolls in lieu of paper dolls.
The "NAGASHI-BINA" was the origin of "HINA-MATSURI" which developed from the cultural influence of the girls who loved to play with paper dolls at that time.
So "HINA-MATSURI" is the event to:
Pray for girls's healthy development and growth
Drive away misfortune (i.e., evil spirits) from girls and young ladies by having the dolls assume their misfortune
As time passed, the Hina Dolls became a part of the Japanese bridal trousseau to assume unknown misfortune from young brides, after the marriage. All the while, the dolls were becoming more luxurious with refined decorations. The beautiful dolls began to be passed on from mothers, to their daughters.
If you are fortune enough to attend the Hina Doll Festival where private individual houses hold open houses, you may enter and view their family Hina Dolls which have been passed from generation to generation. Some of the dolls date back to 5 or more generations. Their luxurious and refined decorations are fascinating to see.
The Hina Dolls shown here is the doll that were displayed at the Tomo Hina Festival held in Fukuyama city of Hiroshima Prefecture last year. In the Tomo district, the Japanese craftsmen also developed beautiful palaces (i.e., dolls houses) to accompany the Hina Dolls. It is the unique feature of the Tomo Hina Dolls and the dolls and the palaces are gorgeous!
How Are The Hina Dolls Displayed?
Families with young daughters display the Hina Dolls on the seven-stepped platform covered with red cloth. The family views the dolls together while drinking white sweet sake called "SHIROZAKE".
The Emperor and Empress sit on the top (of course!) step, followed by female dolls called the "Three Court Ladies", male dolls called the "Five Court Musicians" and other dolls such as Samurai guards who protect the Emperor and Empress. There are also miniaturized furniture including chest, dressing table, sewing set, tea set, etc. These are the gifts which a mother passes onto her daughter as part of the bridal gifts.
In general, the Emperor doll is seated on the right side (i.e., on your left) as shown in the above 7-stepped platform photo, however in Kyoto the Emperor sits on the left (i.e., on your right) as shown in the below photo.
Interestingly, the real Emperor is positioned on the right (i.e., general style), similar to how men stand in wedding. It all follows the western style.
Only Kyoto seems to keep the original position taken by Emperor Meiji - so, when in Kyoto - sit or stand on the left!
Because of lack of space in traditional Japanese homes, more recently, some homes only display the Emperor and Empress set. Some doll displays have grown so large, it has become difficult for the residents to occupy the home at the same time!
Why Peach Blossom Is Displayed?
The "HINA-MATSURI" is also known as the Girls' Festival or the Blossom Festival "MOMO-NO-SEKKU". Momo in Japanese means Peach and the peach blossom is displayed beside the dolls.
This has been done in part because the peach blossom blooms in March, and partially because the peach blossom has been believed to provide protection against evil spirits. It is believed that the peach blossom can protect entire family from evils spirits. It's a long story, if you come to Hiroshima, I will provide some added details!
At What Age Do Young Girls Stop Displaying Dolls?
Since the doll is believed to protect girls and young women from misfortune, they can be displayed every March, for as often as they like. However, if for some reason they need to dispose of the dolls, they can bring the dolls to Shinto shrines. For example, the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo has yearly events to honor and pray for the dolls before they go to a better place (i.e., disposal by the shrine).
Japan has many unique traditions to appreciate the contribution by the tools that have been developed over the centuries. Examples include: calligraphy brushes, needles and refined shears. Japanese believe that each tool has a mind of its own and we hold the same events to honor and pray for the tools before the end of their lives. They are treated like human being!
In Hiroshima's neighborhood of Kumano, the Fude Festival is famous for this event about the brushes. It takes place late September every year (click here to open their home page). They account for 80% of Japanese brush production and recently export their make-up brushes overseas as premium brand.
If you are coming to Hiroshima in March, please do not miss the HINA-MATSURI displays. Because the nearby famous island of Miyajima also runs the festival for a few weeks, we would include stopping for the open houses to see the doll displays in our Miyajima tour.
Hina Dolls are also displayed at Hina-Meguri Festival in Takehara. You can drop by on your way to the rabbit island "OOKUNOSHIMA" which also has historical WWII buildings that can be visited
When you find them, please do not forget to guess how old they are!