In Japan, we had a special day called Hinamatsuri a few days ago, on March 3. Hinamatsuri is also called Doll’s day or Girl’s day. If you are in Japan during hinamatsuri, you will probably recognize it from the pink color everywhere: in decorations, in desserts and even in food.
The name hinamatsuri (雛祭り) originates from the word hinaningyo (雛人形) and the word matsuri (祭り), latter meaning “festival” and the former referring to ornament dolls that are set on display during this festival. Originally, people set straw dolls afloat on tiny boats and then sent them down a river to the sea, sending away bad spirits with them as well. However, this tradition is no longer practiced.
Instead of sending the dolls away, beautiful hina dolls are set on display somewhere in one’s home. There are different placement orders with different amount of dolls but most Japanese just set two dolls on display: an emperor doll and an empress doll.
You can see an example of the dolls set on display above. I couldn’t get a better picture for you as it would have been rude to remove the cover glass and take picture like that. This year, these dolls could be set on display as early as on February 4th as that’s a beginning day of the new solar term called start of spring. As one of hinamatsuri’s meanings is the celebration of spring, it wouldn’t be good to set them on display before the start of spring. However, since hina dolls should be put on display as soon as possible, some internet sites actually recommend you to set them up in January in case you don’t have time to do it in February. I wonder if there really are people who just can’t find that 15 minutes you need for organizing the dolls in a whole month? Nevertheless, even these extremely occupied people should find enough time to clean away the dolls right on March 4th or 5th at the latest: if the dolls are left on display long time after the festival day, they will (apparently) bring bad luck to the house.
Many Japanese people also think that the dolls should be on display on a day of taian (大安), a day believed to be particularly lucky. If you ever have a chance to look at Japanese calendar, you will notice that every day has something written on them – these kanji words tell you if the day is lucky or unlucky (or what time of the day will be lucky).
Aside from just setting the dolls on display, you should also remember to give them green tea and food. In the house I’m using in the photos of this post, dolls were given pink marshmallows right from the day they were put on display. They also had tea in front of them constantly. They were also given a little bit of chirashisushi during the dinner of the day of festival – the father of the family ate this plateful of rice a few hours later so it wasn’t thrown to rubbish can.
In case you have never heard of chirashisushi, it literally means “scattered sushi” and you could also translate it as “sushi salad”. It’s a one bowl dish with rice mixed with fish, vegetables and other ingredients – the choice of the ingredients depends on the house traditions. The rice of this dish is flavored with vinegar in the same way as rice used for other kinds of sushi. Chirashisushi below has shrimp, salmon and sesame seeds added, and it was eaten with mitsuba – East Asian wildparsley.
Sometimes there is also sashimi (raw fish) on the table and you’ll get to assemble your portion by yourself. Aside from chirashisushi, many will also eat various pink desserts like sweets called sakuramochi.
Sakuramochi is a Japanese traditional sweet consisting of pink mochi (rice cake) and anko (red bean paste) in the center. Mochi is wrapped in a pickled cherry blossom leaf. The leaf is edible, it’s a bit salty which makes it a perfect companion for the very sweet red bean paste inside the mochi. However, for personal preferences some Japanese choose to not eat the leaf so you won’t be frowned upon if you choose to take it off before eating. Personally I think it’s a shame to leave it uneaten though – it’s delicious!
Even though many young Japanese people living alone don’t follow the tradition of doll ornaments, most do follow the traditions regarding food. This is understandable as Hina dolls aren’t really the cheapest possible thing to buy, especially if you want to buy the more extravagant ones – they can cost you thousands in dollars. However, asking around my friends, most of them said they would definitely love to participate in the tradition more well after they have a family and a house of their own so this tradition will most probably keep on living in the future too.
By the way, Hinamatsuri wasn’t always a girl’s day. It used to be a day celebrated for both boys and girls but this changed after the Children’s day on May 5th turned into exclusively boy’s day.