Every March 3 in Japan is Hinamatsuri, a special holiday set aside to commemorate the growth, happiness, and prosperity of young girls.
Also known as Girls' Day, this unique festival is celebrated differently depending on the region of Japan you're in, but most customs will include some similar features, like a set of cute hina dolls, peach flower decorations, as well as festive food such as hina-arare (multi-colored rice crackers) and chirashizushi (sliced raw fish with rice).
What's the story behind how March 3 come to be celebrated as Girls' Day in Japan? As we shed some light on this interesting Japanese festival, check out also some delicious takeout food you can grab for a casual celebration at home!
- Table of Contents
- 1. Hina Matsuri History: Why is the Japanese Doll Festival Celebrated?
- 2. What do the hina dolls and peach flower decorations symbolize?
- 3. Types of hina dolls and how to decorate them
- 4. How Japanese Celebrate Girls' Day Today: Famous Hinamatsuri events
- 5. Celebrate Hina matsuri with these auspicious treats!
- 6. Buy some chirashizushi or Hinamatsuri cakes home to celebrate!
1. Hina Matsuri History: Why is the Japanese Doll Festival Celebrated?
There are a few theories about how Hinamatsuri got started, but the likeliest one is that it originated from China's Shangsi Festival that was introduced into Japan as a sekku (traditional festival) when Japan adopted the Chinese calendar system and the customs it came with.
Other traditional festivals on the calendar are the well-known Dragon Boat Festival (5th day of the 5th month) and Qixi Festival (7th day of the 7th month).
As you may have noticed, festival days usually fell on odd-numbered months on the same day as the month, as these dates were considered auspicious.
Shangsi Festival was originally held as a festival to ward off badness by setting dolls on a river, so that they could drift away with the participant's misfortunes, in a ritual called nagashibina (drifting doll). As time went by, these dolls took on more prominence and instead of setting them on rivers, they were placed inside homes as decorations.
Eventually, these dolls came to be known as hina dolls and were used among the aristocrats as toys in pretend play activities known as hihina-asobi (also called hiina-asobi or hina-asobi). And that was how the Hinamatsuri we are familiar with today was born.
The modern festival date falls on March 3, following the Gregorian calendar instead of the lunar calendar. The date, along with its objective of celebrating the growth and happiness of young girls, is said to have been introduced during the Edo Period (1603 to 1868).
2. What do the hina dolls and peach flower decorations symbolize?
Originally meant to be set on river surfaces and used as pretend play toys, hina dolls are now settled in their roles as decorations. The very first dolls designated for setting on rivers were initially made of paper and straw.
Over time, they became fancy enough to be used as ornaments at home. During the Edo Period, when Hinamatsuri became more established, some forms of the dolls were even dressed in resplendent robes modeled after those worn by royalty, adding to their flamboyance.
Hinamatsuri is also known as Momo no Sekku (peach traditional festival), because peach blossoms were used to celebrate the original Shangsi Festival. These beautiful blossoms were viewed as auspicious plants with the ability to dispel misfortune, ward off evil, and grant longevity.
The modern festival has kept this traditional aspect alive in the form of peach blossom decorations. That the bright pink petals are closely associated with the newness of spring and young girls - both elements related to Hinamatsuri - is a bonus!
3. Types of hina dolls and how to decorate them
Traditionally, the hina doll is believed to protect the young girls in the family by carrying their illnesses and misfortunes for them.
Most houses will thus at least have a pair of male and female dolls in storage. The make of the doll determines whether they are classified as ishо̄gi (costumed) dolls or kimekomi (grooved) dolls.
As the name suggests, ishо̄gi dolls have their costumes put on them as we would with normal clothing. As for kimekomi dolls, the process of adorning them is a bit more complex.
First of all, the doll's body is made with solidified paulownia powder mixed with glue. Grooves are then cut out on the body and kinran (gold or silver brocade woven into intricate designs) or yūzen (a dye technique that applies rice paste to the cloth to prevent color transfer) fabric are glued on the body, with the edges tucked into the grooves.
The most extravagant way of decorating hina dolls is to place them on a seven-tier dankazari doll stand. There's also a shorter version with just two or three tiers, sometimes called the dekazari. Minimalists may prefer the shinnо̄kazari, which is one tier only and contains just the main pair of dairibina (imperial dolls).
Of course, these are just the most common types that can be found. There are plenty of other differently designed doll stands available as well.
All platform-based doll stands are collectively called the hinadan, and this is the most prominent and iconic decoration piece of Hinamatsuri that people think about when the festival is mentioned.
Although the order of the dolls on the red carpet can change depending on region and family tradition, the dolls represent a Heian period wedding, around which the couple are surrounded by their court. Since dolls can be fairly expensive - costing around $700 for a two-tier set and $2,600+ for a 5-tier set - these collections tend to become family heirlooms.
・Top Platform: This is occupied by only two dolls, the dairi-bina. They are known as the imperial dolls though they do not represent the Imperial family.
・Second Platform: This holds the san-nin kanjo, three court ladies who serve drinks to the male and female dolls.
・Third Platform: This holds the go-nin bayashi, five male musicians of the court, each of who hold an instrument except for the singer, who holds a fan.
・Fourth Platform: Here are two ministers, zuijin, who are alternatively known as the couple's bodyguards. Displayed here as well are tables with gifts for the couple.
・Fifth Platform: Three helpers (/protectors) - the shichо̄ - of the couple are displayed here: one is a crying drinker; one an angry drinker; and one a laughing drinker. Also displayed here are a mandarin orange tree and a sakura tree.
・Sixth and Seventh (Bottom) Platforms: Displayed here are a variety of items used within the couple's household, including furniture, storage chests, mirrors, sewing kits, utensils and more. Ox-drawn carts may also be displayed on the seventh platform.
The doll stands are to be set up and decorated between the first day of spring (around February 3) to around mid-March. At the very least, it has to be up one week before Hinamatsuri is celebrated on March 3! Rushing to put everything up on March 2 is known as ichikakazari (overnight decoration), and this is something to be avoided as it is considered inauspicious in the eyes of most.
4. How Japanese Celebrate Girls' Day Today: Famous Hinamatsuri events
Thinking of celebrating Hinamatsuri? With the plethora of events taking place all over Japan during this period, from impressive displays made with thousand of hina dolls to exhibitions featuring rare and unusual hina dolls, you'll be completely spoiled for choice here! Pick an event and get up to speed about the origins of this festival to appreciate it even more!
■Katsuura Big Hinamatsuri: Painting the town red with festivities (cancelled for 2021)
During the Hinamatsuri festive period, Katsuura City in Chiba will be decorated with a jaw-dropping 30,000 hina dolls all around the city in an event called Katsuura Big Hinamatsuri that literally covers the town in festive colors.
The city's Tomisaki Shrine, for example, transforms its 60 stone steps into a temporary multi-tier doll stand with about 1,800 dolls, whilst the cultural exchange center will contain about 8,000 dolls by itself! There will also be 15 of Japan's largest hina dolls on display, known collectively as the kyо̄hofūhina. If it's the wow factor you're after, you definitely won't want to miss this event!
*Note that the event has been cancelled for the year 2021
Katsuura Big Hinamatsuriかつうらビッグひな祭り
- Address 1343-1, Shinkan, Katsuura, Chiba 299-5224
10-minute walk from Katsuura Station on the JR Lines
Phone: 0470-73-6641 (Big Hinamatsuri Executive Committee *Katsuura City Tourism & Industry Division Section)
Admission: Free to view
Closed: Open daily
Event Period: Late February to early March every year *Cancelled for 2021
Venue: Various places in Katsuura City, Chiba Prefecture
■Machikado Hina Meguri: Sightsee, create, and eat hina doll-related products at Iwatsuki, the "City of Dolls"!
Iwatsuki is a ward in Saitama City that's well-known as the top doll-producing district of Japan. As such, it has been affectionately nicknamed the City of Dolls. Every year, the town holds the Machikado Hinameguri (Touring the Streets of Hina Dolls) event, which is a collection of multiple activities planned around the themes of sightseeing, creating, and eating hina doll-related products.
For the sightseeing portion, participants are invited to join a stamp rally that will bring them on a tour around the town, visiting master craftsmen and historic shop dolls. Create some hanging decorations made of mini-hina dolls while you're at it!
Also, you'll definitely pass by one or two eateries selling limited-time festive food, so take your time to try some out too.
Note that the 18th annual event in 2021 will be held on a smaller scale to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Machikado Hina Meguri第18回人形のまち岩槻 まちかど雛めぐり
- Address 1-1, Honcho, Saitama Iwatsuki-ku, Saitama 339-0057
Immediately at Iwatsuki Station on the Tobu Railway
Phone: 070-1535-8177 (10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.)
Admission: Free to view
Closed: Open daily
Event Period: Saturday, February 2 – Sunday, March 7, 2021
Venue: Shops around East Exit of Iwatsuki Station, Saitama Prefecture
■Hina no Tsurushikazari Festival: Swim in a sea of hina hanging decorations!
There is a custom of putting up a pair of hanging decorations on both sides of the doll stand during Hinamatsuri in Shizuoka Prefecture's Izu Inatori.
These hanging decorations are passed down from generation to generation, and some will be on display in four venues around town during the Hina no Tsurushikazari Festival (Hina Hanging Decorations Festival) 2021, which will be open for touring until Wednesday, March 31.
The main venue for the decorations will be in Hina no Yakata, a building located inside Inatori Cultural Park. Feel free to stroll along the streets nearby as well, as many shops will be selling souvenirs and other goodies you can get to commemorate your visit here.
Hina no Tsurushikazari Festival 2021雛のつるし飾りまつり 2021
- Address 1729, Inatori, Kamogun Higashiizucho, Shizuoka 413-0411
15-minute walk from Izu-Inatori Station on the Izukyuko Line
Phone: 0557-95-2901 (Inatori Onsen Ryokan Association)
Admission: 500 yen for Hina no Yakata (tax included)
Closed: Hina no Yakata is open daily during the event period
Event Period: Wednesday, January 20 – Wednesday, March 30, 2021
Venues: A few places, including Hina no Yakata, Inatori Cultural Park, Shizuoka Prefecture
In Tokyo, the famous Hundred-Steps Staircase at Meguro Gajoen, a designated tangible cultural property of Tokyo, is the venue for the Hyakudan Hinamatsuri ("hyakudan" actually means one-hundred steps). At this event, an array of vintage Hinamatsuri dolls from Kyushu are displayed.
Particularly Kyushu has a very rich Hinamatsuri culture - all of which can be discovered in around 1,000 different exhibits from all of Kyushu's seven prefectures, such as hina dolls from noble weddings of the Edo period, ancient dolls called shin-hime, ritual dolls used to pray to the deities of mountains, and many more.
In 2021, instead of the Hyakudan Hinamatsuri being held, a special event showcasing 250 Japanese paintings and other works (including hina dolls) will run from 12:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on January 1 through March 14. More information (and tickets) can be found at Hotel Gajoen Tokyo's website (in Japanese).
■The Edo Nagashibina Festival
The Nagashibina Festival translates to the festival of floating dolls and is basically just that. Ancient Japanese put little dolls in baskets and set those afloat on rivers and streams, as a prayer to shield the children from disaster and for safe and healthy growth.
This old tradition has made its way to modern-day Japan, especially to Tokyo, revived in the year 1985 for the first time in decades.
At the end of February or the beginning of March every year, around 3,000 people, young and old, participate in the Edo Nagashibina Festival in Asakusa, letting paper dolls float on the Sumida River to both pray for children and encourage them to shape their future with gentleness and kindness.
In 2021, the Edo Nagashibina Festival was scheduled to be held on March 1, however it has been canceled due to Covid-19.
5. Celebrate Hina matsuri with these auspicious treats!
Like every other festival in Japan, Hinamatsuri comes with its own set of traditional festive food, using seasonal ingredients from early spring.
Clam soup is the representative dish here, as it symbolizes a married couple who complement each other perfectly, like how the two shells of a clam are not complete without each other.
Another treat often associated with Hinamatsuri is the hishimochi, a rhombus-shaped rice cake that is colored green, white, and pink.
Hina-arare, mentioned in the outset, is another famous snack of the festival, and these rice crackers are usually colored pink, green, yellow, and white, each color representing a season.
Finally, there's the ever-popular chirashizushi, a rice bowl topped with ingredients like lotus roots, shrimps, and other food believed to bring good luck and longevity.
6. Buy some chirashizushi or Hinamatsuri cakes home to celebrate!
With major conveyor belt sushi chains like Sushiro and Kappa Sushi offering takeout festival food that are as delicious as they are colorful, everyone can join in the celebration from home these days, if they like! In the mood for something a bit less traditional? Check out Ginza Cozy Corner's cute but glamorous Hinamatsuri cakes too! This Western confectionery chain store can be found all over Japan, so there's no need to make a special trip somewhere far to find one. Celebrate Hinamatsuri in style at home in 2021!
■Sushiro's chirashizushi is jam-packed with 10 types of tasty ingredients
Every year, Sushiro sells "Hina Chirashi", a limited time sushi platter only available during the Hinamatsuri season. As you would expect, this menu item is extremely popular! Their offering this year is the "10 Seafood Hina Chirashi (1,980 yen for 2 to 3 persons, 680 yen for 1 person, both tax included)", and the ingredients are even arranged to look like a blooming flower. Tuna is the most popular sushi in general, though the ladies may prefer salmon, and children either go for shrimps or fish roes. With 10 different types of fresh seafood toppings available, there's bound to be an ingredient that suits your palate.
Reservation via shop, internet, or phone is required. The platter goes on sale from Thursday, February 25 to Wednesday, March 31, 2021. While stocks last.
■Kappa Sushi's gorgeously decorated "Hana Hina Chirashi" features 10 types of ingredients
Kappa Sushi's "Hana Hina Chirashi" has clearly been specially designed to remind you that spring is coming. The portions are available as a single serving for one person (590 yen, or 637 yen for takeout, tax excluded) or something hefty enough for two to three people (1,380 yen, or 1,490 yen for takeout, tax excluded). In addition to six types of seafood favorites like salmon roes, tuna, squid, shrimp, salmon, and flying fish roes, you'll also get four other ingredients - steamed eggs, dried gourd strips, fried tofu, and cucumbers, a total of 10.
With regular Hinamatsuri fare so easily available for takeout along with any sides you desire, enjoying the festival at home doesn't seem that hard after all! Reservation via shop, internet, or phone for "Hana Chirashi" is required, and the platter will be on sale from Friday, February 26 to Wednesday, March 3, 2021.
Ginza Cozy Corner is best known for cakes and pastries. Their lineup of Hinamatsuri limited-time cakes are available at shops and branches all around the country.
This year, the confectionery chain is offering different kinds of party packs that will add color to your Hinamatsuri meal. The "Hina Party (9 pieces - 2,700 yen, tax included)" is an assortment of spring-colored, bite-sized cakes that's perfect for any, well, party! The "Hina Ōgi (super small size 2,160 yen / M size 3,456 yen, both prices tax included)", on the other hand, is a cake cut in the shape of an opened Japanese о̄gi (hand fan). These are just a couple of items on their menu for this year's Hinamatsuri.
Reservation via shop, internet, or phone is required for Hinamatsuri items, which will go on sale from Saturday, February 27 to Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Note that internet reservations can only be collected at certain shops.
Hinamatsuri is a festival that embodies the well-wishes parents have for their daughters, such as wanting them to be happy and healthy always. If you would like to participate in this special occasion, it's really very simple! Set up and decorate your doll stand, grab some auspicious takeout food, and celebrate Hinamatsuri 2021 with the rest of Japan from the comfort of your own home!
* Content, price, or stock condition subject to change without prior notification. Check the websites for details and latest information.
Text by: Efeel. English translation by: Huimin Pan.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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