Hinamatsuri (Girl's Festival) article in the Japan Times, plus my aunt's antique hina dolls

The new Japan Times article by me out today is about Hinamatsuri, or Girl's Festival, which falls on March 3rd. I've talked about Hinamatsuri on this site previously, but the article goes a lot deeper into the traditions and origins of the day, which is to celebrate the well-being and happiness of girls and women. There is also a recipe of course - for a Hinamatsuri-colored spring chirashizushi (scattered sushi), which is great for parties since it's so easily scaleable. I hope you check it out! (If you're looking for daintier, but fiddlier, Hinamatsuri-appropriate sushi, try shell-shaped Hamaguri zushi, or little ball-shaped Temari zushi.)

Hinamatsuri is a day for girls. There's also a day for children on May 5th (Kodomo no hi), but I guess to the people of the olden days the only children that counted were boys, because just about all of the Children's Day traditions are boy-centric! Only households with boys are supposed to put up a flagpole flying koinobori, or carp-shaped wind socks, and the only doll displayed is of a little warrior. Growing up in a household with only sisters, I always vaguely resented the colorful koinobori flown by our across the street neighbors, and never related to Children's Day much. Girl's Day on the other hand was just for us.

Although the Japan Times article is mostly focused on the food-related customs of Hinamatsuri, I also talk a little about the centerpiece of the day, the hina dolls. The prince and princess dolls (odairi-sama and ohina-sama) shown in the article belong to my aunt - they are an antique set she inherited from her mother-in-law. Here's the complete display. There's the newlywed prince and princess flanked by two lanterns (bonbori), three ladies in waiting (san-nin kan-nyo), 5 musicians (go-nin bayashi), and two bodyguards or soldiers, one an archer and the other a spear carrier. The three bearers of goods on the bottom rung accompanying the princess's dowry chests are rather unusual - most sets don't have them. (The custom of bringing a chest of drawers (tansu) with you when you get married still lingers today, especially out in rural areas.) Then there's the couple's wedding feast trays with bowls, and two peach trees, one in full flower and the other one with fruit.


Even the most expensive and elaborate modern hina doll sets with handcrafted dolls made of wood or ceramic and real fabric, are let down by the cheap-feeling plastic accessories that come with them. They look okay from a distance, but up close they are well, plastic. This set on the other hand has real lacquered wood and cast-porcelain accessories. According to my aunt, the set originally belonged to an aristocratic family, who had to sell it in the postwar period when their finances got tight. It was most likely custom made for the family in better times. It's quite fascinating to imagine all the little girls who must have taken out these dolls every year to display and admire them, so many years ago.

Filed under:  japanese sushi holidays japan cool stuff from japan japan times

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Thank you for the article! I'm definitely going to celebrate this holiday with my daughters! We can't get many of the Japanese items you mentioned in this post & in the article but we will improvise.

That is a lovely display. It must be a great joy to unpack them every year and to be able to sit in front of them and adamire them, to think about the little girls who must have done the same thing so many years ago. Thank you so very much for sharing this with us.
It's awsome for me to find out I was born on Hinamatsuri, if only I were Japanese.

Wonderful dolls,thank you for the very informative post(also on japan times), I didn't know ichigo daifuku is a hina matsuri confection.
Maki I have a question, do you maybe know what 引千切 hichi giri is? This is a wagashi made from rice flour(?)sometimes with yomogi and a little bit white or pink shiro-an. What is the "meaning" of this confection(or what does it represent, small birds?(to me it looks like small birds ;-))? Thank you!

Pic: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jam343/107004291/

Enjoyed reading this entry and the article in the Times.

Your aunt's hina ningyo are lovely and in great condition. I also like the great hina-dan to display them.

They are made in a style called kimekomi, and the faces are gofun.(a paste made of ground oyster shell.) They look to me like they date to the very early Showa period, maybe late Taisho. Kimekomi was popular then among certain doll-makers, and though kimekomi dolls are still made, the style of the faces and other details lead me to the age I suggested.

Since we are not Japanese, though I may put out one of several sets of dairibina that I have, I'm more apt to just make some Japanese food we like, like okonomiyaki, for dinner that day.

Oh, dear, I grew up referring to May as boys' day, and Mar 3 as girls' day. I figured each gender had its day. I never minded that 'boys' day' was about boys, because we girls were always welcome at our community's picnic. I also figured we had our own special day, girls' day, to celebrate with the most beautiful dolls and elegant snacks. The boys were always welcome, but they rarely showed interest. I guess nowadays they are called dolls' festival and children's day, to be more gender neutral?

Actually, in Japan they are never called Girl's Day and Boy's Day - they're usually called (for 3/3) Hinamatsuri or Momo no sekku, and 5/5 is Kodomo no hi (Children's Day) or Tango no sekku. Girl's Day and Boy's Day is what they are translated to for English - a case of translating what the days are rather than what the names mean.

I almost forgot about Hinamatsuri! Thanks for the reminder (and the article!) and I'm really looking forward to it all. Mostly the hina-arare, but I do enjoy the displays, even though the one my mom puts up isn't nearly as epic as yours!

Thank you for sharing this hinamatsuri display! I wish there was a place we could purchase these in the U.S. Hinamatsuri is one of my favorite Japanese holidays- it is so girly, pretty, and yummy.