It doesn’t feel like it, but yes, spring is here! Time for one of Japan’s most beloved festivals, Hina Matsuri, a childhood celebration for girls across Japan.
To recap, Hina Matsuri (ひな祭り) is one of the 5 sekku (節句), or seasonal events once celebrated during Japan’s imperial era. I’ve touched on Momo no Sekku in my Hatsu Sekku (初節句) post. It’s held annually on March 3rd and coincides with the spring bloom of peach (桃 | momo) blossoms. As a result, Hina Matsuri is also known as Momo no Sekku (桃の節句. It’s also known as Girls’ Day.
Hina Matsuri, A Childhood Celebration For Girls Across Japan
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On this day, girls go to shrines wearing colorful kimono (着物) and a cape-like garment called a hifu (被布) over their kimono.
(This 9 piece set is available on Amazon Japan!)
Taking center stage on Hina Matsuri are the elaborate (and often very expensive!) hina ningyo (雛人形) dolls. They are typically given to a young girl by her grandparents or handed down from her mother.
What Are Hina Dolls?
Hina dolls, or hina ningyo (ひな人形) were once intended to protect a young girl from illness and misfortune. But, the hina ningyo as we know them today are a representation of the imperial court.
A hina ningyo display can be a simple one tier consisting of the dairi bina (内裏雛 | the Emperor and Empress) or they can include other members of the court. The grandest displays feature 7 tiers, listed top to bottom:
- Odairi-sama (お内裏様) and Ohina-sama (お雛様)
- Sannin kanjo (三人官女); 3 ladies in waiting
- Go nin bayashi (五人囃子); 5 court musicians
- Daijin (大臣); ministers
- Shichou (仕丁); servants
- Items used when the Emperor and Empress are present at court
- Items used when the Emperor and Empress are not at court
While the 7 tier Hina Doll display are traditional, it’s more common for display just the first tier with Odairi-sama and Ohina-sama, like this set:
Hina ningyo go out in mid-February, ideally on usui (雨水), which falls on or around the 19th. Alternatively, you can wait for any day that is 大安 (taian), the most auspicious day, to display the dolls.
No matter when you decide to take out the dolls, they must be put away at the end of Girl’s Day or a girl will be doomed to marry late… or never at all!
Hina Matsuri Decorations
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Don’t let the word “matsuri” confuse you. Unlike summer festivals filled with music and live entertainment and games, hina matsuri are elaborate, yet understated festivals. It’s a wonderful opportunity to observe traditional Japanese craftsmanship.
Go to a municipal office or library to see a hina ningyo display, but if you have time, take a road trip to see more elaborate displays.
Several cities across Japan are famous for their elaborate hina ningyo displays. They go up in late January and stay up even as late as April:
- Hotel Gajoen Hinamatsuri in Meguro, Tokyo
- Katsuura Grand Hinamatsuri in Katsuura, Chiba Prefecture
- Yanagawa Hinamatsuri in Yanagawa, Fukuoka Prefecture
- Hina no Tsurushi Kazari in Izu Inatori, Shizuoka Prefecture
- Big Awa Katsuura Hinamatsuri in Tokushima, Tokushima Prefecture
- Kasafuku in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture
The Foods of Hina Matsuri
Hina Matsuri is probably one of my favorite Japanese celebrations simply because of the clothing, decorations, and kawaii food and snacks.
Once Setsubun is over, hina arare (ひなあられ), colorful sweet rice crackers go on sale along with hina ningyo themed snack packages.
In the days leading up to Girls’ Day shops supermarkets and shops specializing in Japanese sweets (和菓子 | wagashi) sell hishi mochi (菱餅), tricolor diamond rice cakes.
The green in hishi mochi represent growing grass and tree buds; white represents snow; pink represents new life; peach (momo) blossoms.
If you love sushi, Girls’ Day is the event for you! It’s common to prepare temari sushi (てまり寿司), delicately decorated sushi balls.
Another dish is chirashi zushi (ちらし寿司), sushi rice topped with shredded eggs, ikura (salmon roe), whole cooked shrimp, lotus root, gobou, sakura denbu, and seaweed strips.
READ: Tokyo’s Toddler-Friendly Sushi Making Classes
Rounding out the meal is clam broth (ハマグリの潮汁 | hamaguri no ushio jiru). This is because clams are in season this time of year and because they also come in pairs, it symbolizes a girl’s future marriage. Add amazake (甘酒), a sweet thick non-alcoholic beverage made from rice koji to wash it all down!
For more on Hina Matsuri and other Japanese celebrations, I recommend this book, Japanese Traditions: Rice Cakes, Cherry Blossoms and Matsuri: A Year of Seasonal Japanese Festivities:
Available on Amazon & Amazon Japan