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Today’s article is about the Japanese cultural event 雛祭り/ひなまつり/Hinamatsuri/Doll’s festival. It takes place on March 3rd every year and also known as 桃の節句/もものせっく/Momo no Sekku/festival of peach.

What is Doll’s festival?

It is an event to wish for the growth and health of girls. It takes place on March 3rd because there was customary from Yin-Yang Taoism in ancient China to make offerings and perform rituals of purification on days when the odd numbers 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 coincided. In Japan, it became an annual event in the Heian period (794 - 1185). In the Edo period (1603 - 1868), it underwent a slight change and became an official holiday.

Why is it called Doll’s festival?

Japanese court nobles had a game for young girls called ひな遊び/ひなあそび/Hina asobi which is basically a playhouse with dolls. In the Edo period (1603-1868), women from noble families often married into the powerful samurai families, and Hina dolls were brought into the samurai society as a wedding gift. Hina dolls became popular among samurai families and wealthy merchants. Gradually, the custom of enjoying Hina dolls was linked with the 桃の節句(Momo no sekku/Festival of peach).

Why is it called the Festival of peach?

March 3rd in the lunar calendar is from early March to mid-April in the present day. It is time for spring when peach blossoms are in full bloom. In China, the peach tree is considered to be a sacred tree of longevity that repels disease and misfortune. The peach is a very auspicious plant.

Decoration of Hina dolls

There are two types of Hina dolls; ones made in Kyoto and others made in the Kanto region. They differ in the position of the male and female dolls and their facial expressions. Families with daughter display Hina dolls. In the old days, people used to decorate Hina dolls on a large, multi-tiered, magnificent stand. But nowadays, houses in Japan are not very spacious, many families nowadays decorate Hina dolls in the one-tier type.

Hina dolls are usually started to be decorated right after 節分(Setsubun), February of 3rd. It is best to decorate at least a week in advance. If you rush to decorate on the day before, March 2nd, it is called "overnight decorating" and is not good luck, so it should be avoided. They should be put away on a sunny and arid day around mid-March. The key is to not leave any moisture on the doll. There is also a saying that it is good to clean up on the day of "enlightenment" (around March 5). People often say "As soon as the Doll Festival is over, we have to clean up” but don’t worry, it is not necessary to clean up right after the festival on March 4th.

Special food on Doll’s festival

Soup of Hamaguri clamshell

Clamshells match only with their original pairs and were used in games such as shell matching. In Japanese, the name "clamshell" is associated with a married couple who are intimate enough to stay together for life. The season for clams is from February to April which is right around the time of the Girls' Festival.

菱餅/ひしもち/Hishi mochi/diamond-shaped mochi

It is a rice cake coloured in pink, white and green. The plant "hishi" (water chestnut) spreads and flourishes on the surface of the water, so the hishi shape has long been a symbol of growth and prosperity. Hishi mochi represents the wish for a girl's healthy growth and prosperous life.

ちらし寿司/ちらしずし/Chirashi zushi

In the past, なれずし (narezushi) was served for celebrations, but this gradually changed, and chirashizushi, which is more colourful, came to be favoured. The colourful ingredients are filled with many wishes, for example, shrimps are for the wish “to live long enough” and beans are for good health and hard work.

In modern days, families gather together and eat sushi with spring-like colours and make cakes inspired by the Doll's Festival to celebrate.

Many places celebrate the doll’s festival in a unique way across Japan. If you are interested and have a chance to travel to Japan, it’s good to visit one of them!

Momoka Yamaguchi

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