Understanding Japan's Doll's Festival

What Are the Customs of Hinamatsuri?

Hinamatsuri
Buddhika Weerasinghe. Getty Images News

Hinamatsuri is a Japanese festival that is held every year on March 3rd. It is also called Doll's Festival in English. This is a special day in Japanese culture set aside to pray for the growth and happiness of young girls. 

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 and have it float away.

A custom called " hina-okuri" or "nagashi-bina," in which people float paper dolls down rivers late in the afternoon of March 3rd, still exists in various areas.

However, for the most part, families honor this day with a doll display and special dishes.

Doll Set

Most families with girls display hina-ningyo, or special dolls for Hinamatsuri, along with delicate peach blossoms. They are usually arranged on a 5 or 7-tiered stand covered with a red carpet.

However, since many Japanese live in small houses, a version with just the royal couple (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.

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).

 

First Tier

At the top are the Emperor and Empress dolls. 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.

Second Tier

The next step of the display tier contains 3 court ladies (sannin-kanjo).

Third Tier

The court ladies are followed by 5 musicians (gonin-bayashi) on the next tier. The musicians each feature an instrument. There is a flute (fue / 笛), a singer (utaikata / 謡い方)who is holding a folding fan (sensu), a hand drum (kozutsumi / 小鼓), large drum (oozutsumi) and a small drum (taiko / 太鼓).

Fourth Tier

On the next tier down, there are 2 ministers which are together called "zuishin". Individually, they are called the minister of the right (udaijin / 右大臣) and the minister of the left (sadaijin / 左大臣).

The one on the left is considered superior in the old Japanese court, therefore an elder man known of his wisdom was often chosen for this position. This is why a sadaijin doll has a long white beard and looks older than an udaijin doll.

Fifth Tier

Finally, 3 servants are at the bottom row if it is a 5-tiered display. 

Sixth and Seventh Tier

If the tier display goes beyond 5 tiers, the remaining levels are populated with other miniature items such as small pieces of furniture or small meal dishes.

Notable items include a mandarin orange tree (ukon no tachibana / 右近の橘) which is always planted to the right in the old Japanese court.

There is also a cherry tree (sakon no sakura / 左近の桜) which is always planted to the left in the old Japanese court. The cherry tree is sometimes substituted with a little peach tree.

Food Dishes

There 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 (scattered sushi), sakura-mochi (bean paste-filled rice cakes with cherry leaves), hina-arare (rice cake cubes) and shirozake (sweet white sake) are also customary delicacies for the festival.

Hinamatsuri Song

There is a Hinamatsuri song called "Ureshii Hinamatsuri (Happy Hinamatsuri)." Listen to the Hinamatsuri song and read along with the lyrics and the translation below.

Akari o tsukemashou bonbori ni
明かりをつけましょう ぼんぼりに
Ohana o agemashou momo no hana
お花をあげましょう 桃の花
Go-nin bayashi no fue taiko
五人ばやしの 笛太鼓
Kyo wa tanoshii Hinamatsuri
今日は楽しいひな祭り

Let's light the lanterns
Let's set peach flowers
Five court musicians are playing flutes and drums
Today is a joyful Dolls' Festival

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Abe, Namiko. "Understanding Japan's Doll's Festival." ThoughtCo, Sep. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/dolls-festival-and-hinamatsuri-song-2028024. Abe, Namiko. (2017, September 3). Understanding Japan's Doll's Festival. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/dolls-festival-and-hinamatsuri-song-2028024 Abe, Namiko. "Understanding Japan's Doll's Festival." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/dolls-festival-and-hinamatsuri-song-2028024 (accessed December 15, 2017).