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What is Hina Matsuri?

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Yukki's set of hina dolls that her parents bought for her when she was born :)

Are you interested in Japanese festivals and traditions? If so, you're in the right place! Today, we will be writing about Hina Matsuri, an upcoming annual Japanese celebration that takes place on March 3rd. We will go over the general history and significance characters of Hina Matsuri, as well as an exciting event announcement! Hope you enjoy! :)


What is Hina Matsuri?

Hina Matsuri, (the Doll Festival), or Momo no Sekku is the lovely Japanese tradition of Girls' Day, which is held every year on March 3rd. On this day families in Japan pray for the health and happiness of each girl in their family. It's a day for remembering the beautiful, elaborately dressed dolls that have been handed down through generations of the family, and for enjoying special sweets and drinks! There is a joyful Japanese folksong that is specifically sung on this day too - check the video below to hear it :)

March is the season of peach blossom, which flower in pinks and orange, and so these flowers and colours are associated with Hina Matsuri! You can see how it features in our Hina Matsuri Tenugui below.

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Our tenugui collection adds a bit of joy to your home!


The History of Hina Matsuri

Hina Matsuri is one of the Gosekku, the five annual celebrations (sekku) which were adapted from Chinese origins in the Nara Imperial court of the 8th century.

In the Heian era (794-1185), young girls in aristocratic households played with dolls made of cloth or paper called hiina.

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Aristocratic Heian girls playing with hiina

In fact, early in the Heian era novel The Tale of Genji, we meet Genji's future beloved, the Lady Murasaki as a child playing with a doll that she pretends is Lord Genji.

It is thought that Hina Matsuri as we know it today began centuries later, when the custom of playing with hina dolls merged with a Chinese purification event. There is a tradition with hina dolls that by touching them, all bad fortune will be transferred to them, which is described in The Tale of Genji too. In chapter 12, Genji is purified by casting a hina doll into a fast-flowing river: the hina doll has absorbed his bad fortune and carries it away.

Nowadays, central to Hina Matsuri are the beautiful little hina dolls, which are viewed as the guardians of a little girl's health and happiness. As such, they held a lot of value, in their role of warding off bad luck and bringing good fortune.


How Do People Celebrate Hina Matsuri in Japan?

1. Treasured hina dolls are displayed

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(photo from Live Japan)

Hina (ʻprettyʼ or ʻlittleʼ) dolls are dressed in the wonderful robes of the Imperial courtiers of the Heian era. These dolls are dearly loved, and are passed down through generations, from mother to daughter.

The hina dolls are positioned on a tiered, red stage called a hinadan. This is a display stand with one, three, five or seven 'stairs', where the treasured hina ningyo dolls sit, in designated positions. The stage is set up about ten days before Hina Matsuri.

1. At the very top sit the Emperor (Odairi-sama) or Master (obina), and Empress (Ohina-sama) or Mistress (mebina).

2. Below them we find the Court Ladies who serve the aristocratic couple: these are the Three Ladies-in-waiting (三人宮女 Sannin kannyo).

3. On the next level we see the Five Male Musicians (五人囃子Gonin bayashi) who provide entertainment at banquets.

4. Then come the Two Ministers (随身 Zuijin).

5. Finally we see the Three Guards (衛士 Eji) who are the helpers and protectors of the Court.

6. Underneath the dolls there may be gorgeous miniature items of furniture, which are lacquered and decorated with gold leaf, or there may be exquisite items like a tiny calligraphy set to ensure a good education for the little girl.

2. Eat traditional sweets for Hina Matsuri

Hina Matsuri is a day for unpacking the hina dolls and placing them on the stage, and then offering them peach blossoms. It's a gentle day for getting together with family or friends and enjoying sweets and special drinks.

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The left bowl features hina arare (sweet rice cakes) and the right bowl features konpeito (sugar candy) Hina arare are sweet rice cakes that are eaten to celebrate Hina Matsuri! A traditional sweet rice cake called hishimochi is also served. It's a flat triangle shape composed of coloured layers in white, pink, and green. Shirozake is served which is a special white drink with a tiny bit of alcohol in it. Sakura mochi is a popular sweet too. It's made of sweet pink mochi filled with sweet red bean paste and wrapped in a salty pickled cherry leaf.

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On the left: a packet of mini hishimochi On the right: more konpeito!


Zusetsu's Hinamatsuri Experience

Growing up in Japan, Yukki loved seeing the hina dolls go up each year in her bedroom :) Just like how some families have their unique traditions for Christmas (such as putting out milk and cookies for Santa), in her family, Yukki was told to put some sweets in the decorative bowls so that the hina dolls can eat them at night! (She realized only very recently that this was not common practice!)

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A photo of Yukki's cousin's hina dolls!

Cathy has been enjoying making cute hina dolls from the different sizes of beautiful origami that we stock, following the YouTube video from Kamikey Origami! Wouldn't it be fun to make your own hinadan with all of the characters!

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Our origami collection have the perfect beautiful pattern for the hina dolls' kimonos!

Do share your photos with us if you make your own hina dolls origami - we would love to see them! :)


Zusetsu's Online Hina Matsuri Event

This year (spring 2021) we celebrated Hina Matsuri by hosting our first online event with Mai, our dear friend in Kyoto. Mai, a trained tea master, introduced us to Japanese tea ceremony rituals and tools that are specific to Hinamatsuri. Our free event took just two days to sell out, but don't worry - we hope this will be the first of many opportunities for us to get together online - you can check our upcoming Events here!

We were so honoured to have Mai talk to us about Hina Matsuri. It was such a special event, as Mai is a part of that beautiful world of Kyoto that is often inaccessible. We made notes of everything she told us, and wrote it up in this blog: Tea and Hina Matsuri with Mai, so that you can share in this precious experience too!

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We hope you enjoyed this blog! For more articles on Japanese culture and history, try reading our Genji season blog here!

Thank you for reading,

Cathy and Yukki


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Helpful resources:

Thank you to Hina Matsuri - Japanese Doll's Festival YouTube British Library Blog: The Truth about the Japanese Doll Festival "Hinamatsuri": Japan's Doll Festival Savvy Tokyo: Girls' Day Celebration in Japan

Find out more: Tokyo National Museum


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