Japan is a wonderful country renowned for its many festivals. On March 3rd of each year, a festival called Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Festival) is held. It is also sometimes referred to as Momo no Sekku (Peach Festival) because it corresponds to the peach blossom season on the old lunar calendar. Where Kodomo no hi (Children’s Day) held on May 5th is a national holiday, Hinamatsuri is not.
It is considered to be a special day for girls and families with female children celebrate by praying for the girl’s health and happiness.
Hinamatsuri’s origins can be traced back to an ancient Japanese custom called hina-nagashi (“doll floating”), during which straw dolls were set afloat on a boat and sent down a river to the sea, carrying troubles or bad spirits with them.
The Doll Festival is characterized by platforms (hina dan ) covered with a red cloth (dankake) used to display a set of ornamental dolls (hina-ningyo) representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians in traditional court dress of the Heian period. The custom of displaying dolls began during the Heian period. Families generally start to display the dolls in February and take them down immediately after the festival. Superstition dictates that leaving the dolls past March 4 will result in a late marriage for the girls.
The Kanto and the Kansai regions have different placement orders for the dolls from left to right, but the order of dolls per level are identical. The top tier is reserved for the Emperor and Empress dolls. The dolls are usually placed in front of a gold folding screen (byobu). The two lampstands (bonbori) and the paper or silk lanterns (hibukuro) which are usually decorated with cherry (sakura) or plum (ume) blossom patterns are optional.
The second tier holds three ladies of the court. The third tier holds five male musicians. Each musician holds an instrument with the exception of the singer (utaikata), who holds a fan. The forth tier holds two ministers (daijin). One minister is depicted as a young person and the other minister is much older. Both are sometimes equipped with bows and arrows. The fifth tier holds three helpers or samurai as the protectors of the Emperor and Empress. The sixth and seventh tiers hold a variety of miniature furniture, tools, carriages, etc.
Traditionally, during the festival, hishi-mochi (red, white and green diamond shaped rice cakes) are presented as offerings. Also, celebrants drink a sweet white sake known as shiro-zake during the event. Chirashizushi (sushi rice flavored with sugar and vinegar, topped with raw fish and a variety of other ingredients) is often served as the meal. A salt-based soup called ushiojiru containing clams still in the shell is also served. Clam shells are deemed the symbol of a united and peaceful couple because a pair of shells fit together perfectly. Over the years, there have been some modern alterations made such as hinamatsuri cake but the essence of the festival remains unchanged.
Hinamatsuri is not only celebrated in Japan but also in Florence, Italy and Hawaii.