“Hina Matsuri” otherwise known as the “Doll Festival” or “Girls’ Day” is celebrated on March 3rd. Families celebrate and pray for growth and happiness for their daughters. It is also known as “Momo no Sekku” or “Peach Festival”. It was believed that that peach tree drives away evil spirits, and even today, peach blossoms are decorated together with the hina dolls.
Similar to how people decorate Christmas tree in advance, the hina dolls are also decorated before March 3rd. People often decorate after “risshun” which is around February 4th, first day of spring according to the lunar calendar.
My daughter’s Hina doll is not the typical Hina doll, where the figures are dressed in decorative robes of the ancient imperial court sitting on a 5 or 7 tier stage with a red carpet – but they are a set of Ittobori dolls made in Nara. My mother was the one that introduced me to Ittobori, which is a Japanese wood sculpting method that developed in the Nara prefecture. I immediately fell in love with the high craftsmanship, and the Ittobori Hina dolls were a gift to my daughter from both her grandparents the year she was born. Hina dolls are either passed down from generation to generation or bought the first year a girl is born.
Ittobori means they are created by carving with a single knife, whereafter colorful painting is applied by a special pigment suitable for wood. They are hand painted one by one, making them one and only in the world! You will be surprised to see how detailed the painting is! Each doll is shown with the name of the craftsman, and each doll is very unique reflecting the characteristic of the craftsman.
My daughter’s Hina doll is the work of Shisei Doi. He uses bright and bold colors whereas my niece’s Hina dolls made by a different artist/craftsman uses gentle pastel colors. As you can see, even though they are both Ittobori Hina dolls, they can be very quite different.
Special dishes are also prepared for Hina Matsuri. Two typical dishes are “Chirashizushi” and “Hamaguri no Ushiojiru” or clam soup. The “Chirashi zushi” is a type of sushi that is not the regular hand-formed sushi. “Chirashi” means “scattered,” and ingredients such as “sashimi(raw fish),” boiled shrimp, eggs and vegetables of the season (in this case “nanohana(canola flower)” ) are scattered on vinegar-seasoned rice. In Japan, shrimp is a considered a lucky food and symbolizes longevity as the curve looks like an elderly with a bent back. The “Hamaguri no Ushiojiru” is a clear soup with clam. Since only the two matching shells can be paired to form a clam, it is linked to the thinking of meeting the perfect mate, and a happy marriage. In the Heian era (8-12 C), the clams were used for a game called “Kai-awase.” It is similar to “concentration” where you try to find the matching pair of cards while the cards are faced down.
“Hina-arare” is also a popular candy among children. It is a light rice cracker coated with sugar in pink, white and green. The colors depict spring – pink for peach blossoms, white for remaining snow, and green for green sprouts under the snow. The colors are used often in spring Japanese confections, and hopefully you will be able to imagine the coming of spring – the snow melting, fields greening, and peach blossoming.
I found this cute cake with the “Ohina-sama (Empress)” and “Odairi-sama (Emperor)” at a local cake shop and could not resist buying! I hope this post gave you a little insight into how we celebrate “Hina Matsuri” in Japan!