On March 3rd in Japan, Hinamatsuri is celebrated. Hinamatsuri is Girls’ Day, also called Dolls Day. Originally in Hinamatsuri practice, the Hina dolls were used to protect the girls from bad luck. Each girl would place a straw Hina doll upon a small wooden boat and these dolls would take away the evil spirits and troubles. These dolls on wooden boats would flow out sea, and if these wooden boats or dolls were found by fishermen or those out at sea, the small wooden boats and dolls would be brought back to a shrine and burned to void the bad luck, or evil spirits. This doll floating practice was called Hinanahashi, or doll floating came to Japan through the influences of the ancient Chinese practice obtained from the heavy Chinese influence in Japan during the Heian period.
Hinanahashi evolved into Hinamatsuri during the Heian period, which is from 794 to 1185, in Japan. As dolls became more elaborate and richly decorated, these dolls began to become displayed in houses during the Edo period, 1603 and 1868 in the history of Japan.
An elaborate doll display custom evolved into seven tiers. All tiers are lined with a red cloth. The top tier would display the Empress and Emperor, each having a gold screen and a possible light display beside each.
The second tier would contain three court ladies with sake serving equipment, and tables with seasonal treats.
The third tier contains five male musicians, one musician with taiko drum, one musician with larger drum,
Ōtsuzumi, another standing musician with a hand drum, Kotsuzumistan,
another musician seated with a flute, and a fifth musician, the singer, standing with folding fan.
The fourth tier, would contain two ministers, and often a table would be placed in the middle of the ministers. Rice cakes are often presented on these center tables. On the outer left a cherry blossom tree would often be present, and on the outer right a mandarin tree would preside.
The fifth tier often held three Samuris, to protect the Emperor and Empress.
The sixth and seventh tiers often contained furniture, tools, carriages drawn by ox, and flower cart replicas.
Today because Japanese homes as often small, and these elaborate dolls take up a lot of space to carefully store and protect from the humid summer moisture in Japan, most families with girls often have and display the simple set of the top tier of the Emperor and Empress prototype doll. Some families display the top five tiers, and rarely do families display all seven tiers unless it is a miniature display.
These Hina dolls are displayed from from once Setsubun is over, till the 4th of March. Auspicious beliefs in Japan still hold that these Hina dolls left out too long after Hinamatsuri will bring bad luck upon the girls in the household, and prolong the time before they are married. Still today, most families quickly take down their Hina doll displays on March 4th, and then store them until the following February to keep this bad luck at bay.
During the time leading up to Hinamatsuri and on the specific observance of Hinamatsuri on March 3rd, several traditional foods and drinks are eaten.
Hishimochi, a special rectangular shaped rice cake (some are round instead) of layers of green, white, and pink or red on top. White represents snow and its cleansing effects. The green is believed to restore and improve ones blood. The pink or red is symbolic of the beauty of the plum blossoms.
Shirozake is a sweet fermented rice sake, traditionally drank during Hinamatsuri.
Sweet or savory colored crackers of yellow, green, pink and white called hinaarare are eaten as snacks. These colors also have meaning; yellow represents the coming autumn, green the color of the spring leaves, pink of the plum blossoms and spring, and white of that winters cleansing snow.
A clam soup called ushiojiro, containing opened cooked clams still in their shell in a salt broth, is traditionally eaten during Hinamatsuri. These clam shells represent the perfect and peaceful unity of marriage of two people originally connected as are these clam shells.
Many signs and special displays can be observed in grocery stores and stores during the month before Hinamatsuri.
Hinamatsuri is a special day in Japan for girls’ and their families to celebrate their life and connections in their family and community.