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Tea and Hina Matsuri with Mai!

hinamatsuri tea Zusetsu online event

Happy Hinamatsuri Day!

Today is March 3rd, which is the day of Hinamatsuri (Girls' Day) in Japan! In honour of this celebration, our dear friend Mai from Kyoto joined us on our online event where she introduced us to the history of hinamatsuri, and its connection to Japanese tea ceremony. We are so grateful to Mai, our friend in Kyoto who has studied tea ceremony for many years, for hosting our first ever Zusetsu live online event!

Thank you to everyone who joined us – it was lovely to come together as a small community with shared interests! And if you missed this event please don't worry - we are hoping that this will be the first of many opportunities for us to get together online! These are purely our notes that we took during the presentation, so we have limited sources here for verification! This blog is our diary for us to remember and share what we heard :) We have also published a few other related blogs on this subject including: What is Hina Matsuri? and Let's Learn about Japanese Tea!


The History of Japanese Tea

Matcha was first introduced to Japan from China as a medicine. The Zen monk Sen Rikyu established the current version of Japanese tea ceremony in the 16th century, and it has changed little since his time.

There is a deep connection between Zen and tea. Buddhist Zen priests were amongst the key people to practise tea ceremony. Many temples have adjacent tea houses.

During the sengoku period (the ‘warring states’ period from 1467 to 1615), tea ceremony and the accompanying tea ceremony implements were used as political power. It was difficult to award a Samurai with the very limited land available, and so they would receive beautifully made tea ceremony tools. This was a currency that was regarded as wealth and power.

Later, during the Meiji era (1868-1912), tea ceremony rituals informed women’s empowerment. Being practised in tea ceremony signified that you were a lady, and that you were from a well-off family.

Today both men and women enjoy tea ceremony. It is a form of release from the daily stresses of modern life. It is also an opportunity to reconnect to traditional Japanese culture.


tea ceremony Kyoto Zusetsu blog

Tea Ceremony at Camellia Garden, Kyoto

The Tea Ceremony

The teahouse is a spiritually pure area. It is important to express gratitude before entering the teahouse.

On entering you may see an ashtray (tabakobon). This is positioned here out of tradition, remembering the time that the Samurai often smoked. The ashtray is there as a nod to history, and it also indicates where the guests should sit.

It is the duty of the guest to observe and appreciate the effort that the host has gone through in order to carefully select suitable items for this one-time event. It is important that the guest expresses a sense of gratitude from the moment that they enter the teahouse, by carefully observing each of the specially selected items - the choosing of the calligraphy on the scroll; the tea ware; the sweets, and so on.

The most important place in the teahouse is the tokonoma (alcove). As you enter the teahouse you observe and appreciate the items in the tokonoma.

Here the scroll hangs where the theme of the tea ceremony is expressed in calligraphic brushwork. The scrolls are called jiku.

The flower is the only living item in the tea house. Kado – the flowers.

The oko is filled with fragrant incense.

Having taken your time to look at these beautiful objects, you take your seat, kneeling on the tatami flooring, and the tea ceremony begins.

Japanese tea ceremony is exceptional because it encompasses many aspects of Japanese culture in this one single event.

The chawan; kimono; the sweets : each element used in the tea ceremony is a very big part of Japanese culture.

There are outdoor tea ceremonies (nodate) as well as indoor tea ceremonies. The less formal outdoor tea ceremonies occur in spring and autumn: the seating area may be near a flowering cherry tree in spring, and beautiful fall leaves in autumn. A basket called a chabako is used to carry the equipment. Inside the basket you will find all of the necessary tea tools.


Hina Matsuri

The origin of Hina Matsuri was the Chinese festival held on the 3rd day of the third lunar month (at the beginning of April) called the Spring Purification Festival. In this festival young girls dressed in traditional costume were seated near to a stream for the symbolic washing of their feet. This was a ritual that symbolized the spring purification.

This time at the end of winter was a common time to become unwell, and centuries ago an illness was understood to be an evil spirit that had worked its way into the body.

Over many years the tradition evolved so that families in China began to drink an equivalent of sake by a stream – the ritual became more sophisticated.


Kyoto festival matsuri Zusetsu furoshiki store online

Photo of Kamo Kyokusui no En from Discover Kyoto website

The Winding Stream Party

In the Nara period (710 to 794), Japan was very influenced by their Chinese neighbours in all sorts of ways, including art and architecture. The Japanese also borrowed the concept of drinking sake beside a stream.

Hina matsuri as we know it today became established in the elegant Heian era, when Kyoto became the capital of Japan. The Heian aristocrats, who always enjoyed a culture of beauty, took part in Winding Stream parties, in which the principle was to write poetry. The original purpose of the game was to remove bad spirits.

The game was played by noble Heian men. A sake cup was filled and then floated from an upper stream towards the first man seated beside the winding stream. In the time that the sake cup took to travel, the man was expected to compose a poetic verse.

The Heian aristocracy excelled at writing short verse or waka poetry. Their standing within their social circle hinged upon their ability to write and respond in verse. In The Tale of Genji, an individual who has never even been met can be disparaged owing to their poor gift for poetry, calligraphy, and choice of paper on which to write.

If the player could not write the verse in time, he had to drink the sake. However, if he successfully completed the poem he also drank the sake! It required a sharp wit to come up with the poem quickly.

You can see a re-enactment of the Winding Stream party, called Kamo Kyokusui no En each year at Kamigamo Shrine on the second Sunday in April.


Ghibli Spirited Away katashiro Zusetsu store furoshiki blog

Ghibli Studio's amazing animation Spirited Away


Katashiro are simple paper dolls used in Shinto rituals. These paper dolls represent your own human spirit, and the dolls would be sacrificed for your own sake. They were a substitute for your own human spirit.

Purification rituals on the paper dolls symbolized the purification of your own spirit. The dolls absorb any bad spirit and then float away from you on water, carrying the bad spirit away.

Miyazaki’s animation ‘Spirited Away’ is influenced by Shintoism when Chihiro fends off the persistent paper katashiro.


floating doll kyoto hinamatsuri Japanese festival Zusetsu store furoshiki

Nagashibina photo from Sharing Kyoto

Heian Hiina Dolls

In the Heian era (794-1185), children of aristocrats played with little dolls made out of paper called hiina.

This play evolves into the floating of the hiina dolls. The floating of the paper dolls is influenced by the sake and poetry Winding Stream parties, which had originally been the lunar purification rituals of ancient China.

The paper hiina dolls were thrown into the stream in order to carry away the bad spirit – remember this could be a spirit that might create a bad illness for the little girl. So, the combination of these three events: the Chinese lunar purification ritual; the winding stream party; and the hiina doll play for Heian aristocratic little girls melded together to become the floating of paper hina dolls in Heian times, to protect their little girls.

It is called nagashibina. The theme is purification. If the floating doll travels to the end of the stream it is regarded as having successfully rid the little girl of any untoward spirits, and she can look forward to a good year.

At Shimogamo Shrine in northern Kyoto, the Nagashibina festival is held on Hinamatsuri each year. For this celebration, a man and a woman dressed in Heian-era robes, just like the hina ningyou dolls themselves, take paper dolls in specially woven reed baskets and place them into the sacred stream flowing through the Shimogamo grounds. Once the head priest, Odairi-sama, and Ohina-sama have begun the procession, influential members of the community are invited to take their turn, and geiko and maiko take part too.

Gradually, paper dolls were made with heads made out of clay or wood until eventually, in the Edo period (1603-1868) they became the sitting 3-dimensional dolls that we know today.

An elaborate display of dolls was considered a sign of wealth, and of how wealthy the daughter is. The hinadan collection would be a part of a girl’s marriage dowry, to be passed down through her eventual family, from grandmother to mother to daughter.


Hina Matsuri and the Tea Ceremony

The host will carefully select the tea house displays so that the guest will know that the tea ceremony is especially for hina matsuri.

The scroll may have calligraphy and an illustration demonstrating the theme.

The flowers will be spring flowers such as tsubaki (camellia) in order to show that it is becoming springtime.

The vase for the flowers could be a replica of a Heian flute – a reference towards the Heian origin of hina matsuri.

The fragrance may be inside a shell-shaped container. The shell is a popular symbol of hina matsuri, because the special soup that is eaten at this time has shells in it.

In the sitting area, the kama (kettle) is hung from a chain in the ceiling during the month of March. This is because March is the period of the best breeze foreshadowing the approach of spring.

Once the water begins to boil the kettle hisses like the spring breeze – the matsukaze – and the sound echoes around the guests in the room.

The sweets that are served for hina matsuri are often themed around cherry or plum blossom. There is also a sweet that looks like the elegantly layered juunihitoe sleeves of a Heian court lady!

The decoration on the chawan will be themed towards hina matsuri. There may be a Heian influence, or blossom.

The tea canister may be lacquered with drawings of paper hina dolls on it. Curved shapes may represent the hina matsuri motif of the shell.

The rest for the hishaku water ladle may be in the shape of one of the musicians’ instruments from the hinadan display, such as a miniature drum.

There may be a small shelved stand for the water pot, tea canister, ladle and rest which is used especially for March, and which represents the fusuma and the closing and shutting of doors.

Japanese sweets wagashi mochi hinamatsuri Zusetsu store furoshiki

The sweet that is pictured here hasn’t changed for centuries. It is special to Kyoto, and it is called hichigiri. The kanji character for hichigiri (引千切) means ‘to pull and cut into a thousand’. Sweets are usually pounded rice mochi, but because hina matsuri is such a big event there was not always time to make the usual dango mochi shapes, and so the mochi was quickly pulled apart and served like this!


We hope you've enjoyed our notes from Mai's informative presentation. If you've enjoyed this blog, why not read another of our blogs about Japanese culture, such as this one here about Kyoto fragrance!

Thank you for reading,

Cathy and Yukki




Loosely based on a Presentation by Mai

Camellia, Kyoto for tea ceremony experience

Discover Kyoto:

Photo of hichigiri

Photo of nagashibina

Photo from Spirited Away


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