The day of little princesses or our Hina-matsuri feast in Japan

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The Japanese Doll Festival (Hina-matsuri)  is held on 3d of March every year. Since I have two daughters it drew my attention when we lived in Japan, in 2006 for a longer period.

It was only February when I perceived that families had started to display doll shrines and after only one day of celebration they took them down immediately because superstition says that leaving the dolls past March 4 will result in a late marriage for their daughters. It was such a pity not to let the shrines marvel except that one doll shrines cost a fortune (check the prices on my pics).

The history of Hina Matsuri

The custom of displaying dolls began during the Heian period. In that time people believed that the dolls possessed the power to contain bad spirits. However the ancient Japanese custom was called hina-nagashi (“doll floating”), in which straw hina dolls were set afloat on a boat and sent down a river to the sea, supposedly taking troubles or bad spirits with them. For today people have already stopped doing this because of fishermen catching the dolls in their nets then they send them out to sea, and when the spectators are gone they take the boats out of the water and bring them back to the temple and burn them.

 Food and drink

The customary drink for the festival was called shirozake, a sake made from fermented rice alongside with a colorful hina-arare, bite-sized crackers flavored with sugar or soy sauce, depending on the region. They were all colored red (or pink), white, and green. Each color had some symbolical meaning such as the red was for chasing evil spirits away, the white was for purity, and the green was for health. We were also offered some salty soup called ushiojiru contained clams, still in the shell because clam shells in food are deemed the symbol of a united and peaceful couple. It’s very logical while pair of clam shells fits perfectly, and no pair but the original pair can do so. There were some more special dishes yet such as Hishimochi diamond-shaped rice cakes.  In Sapporo where we lived Shirashi-zushi,” (sushi rice flavored with sugar, vinegar, topped with raw fish and a variety of ingredients) Sakura-mochi (bean paste-filled rice cakes with cherry leaves were also served.

Of course there was a song sung in the festival. Its lyrics are as follows:

Akari wo tsukemasho bonbori ni
Ohana wo agemasho momo no hana
Gonin-bayashi no fue taiko
Kyō wa tanoshii hinamatsuri

Let’s light the lanterns
Let’s put peach flowers
Five court musicians are playing flutes and drums
Today is a joyful Doll’s Festival

The doll shrine

On the pictures you can see that the doll shrine or house contains six or seven platforms and they are covered with a red carpet, display a set of ornamental dolls the hina-ningyō, representing the Emperor, Empress, their servants attendants, and musicians in the traditional court dress of the Heian period.

The top tier holds only two dolls, known as imperial dolls and are usually put in front of a gold folding screen and placed beside green Japanese garden trees. Optional are the two lamp stands, called bonbori and the paper or silk lanterns that are known as hibukuro, which are usually decorated with cherry or plum-peach blossom patterns. The traditional arrangement had the male on the right, while modern arrangements had him on the left (from the viewer’s perspective) The Emperor holding a ritual baton shaku however the Empress holding a fan. (The words dairi means “imperial palace”, and hime means “girl” or “princess”).

The second tier holds three court ladies. Each holds sake equipment. From the viewer’s perspective, the standing lady on the right is the long-handled sake-bearer, the standing lady on the left is the backup sake-bearer, and the only lady in the middle is the seated sake bearer. Accessories placed between the ladies are takatsuki, stands with round table-tops for seasonal sweets, excluding hishimochi

The third tier holds five male musicians (gonin bayashi). Each holds a musical instrument except the singer, who holds a fan.

Two ministers may be displayed on the fourth tier: the Minister of the Right and the Minister of the Left. The Minister of the Right is depicted as a young person, while the Minister of the Left is much older. Also, because the dolls are placed in positions relative to each other, the Minister of the Right will be on the viewer’s left and the Minister of the Left will be on the viewer’s right. Both are sometimes equipped with bows and arrows.

Between the two figures are covered bowl tables kakebanzen, also referred to as o-zen, as well as diamond-shaped stands hishidai bearing diamond-shaped rice cakes. Hishidai with feline-shaped legs are known as nekoashigata hishidai, a mandarin orange tree and on the leftmost, a cherry blossom tree.

The fifth tier, between the plants, holds three helpers or samurai as the protectors of the Emperor and Empress (maudlin drinker, cantankerous drinker, merry drinker)

On the sixth and seventh tiers, a variety of miniature furniture, tools, carriages, etc. are displayed items used within the palatial residence. Chest of  drawers, sometimes with swinging outer covering doors. Long chest for kimono storage, smaller clothing storage box, placed on top of nagamochi. Literally mirror stand, a smaller chest of drawer with a mirror on top, sewing kit box, braziers, utensils for the tea ceremony.

In Tokyo Hina matsuri is also called Momo no sekku (Peach Festival because according to the old lunar calendar the peach blossom season begins at the same time when the cherry blossoming.

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One thought on “The day of little princesses or our Hina-matsuri feast in Japan

    spajzgirl responded:
    March 6, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Hello Anastasia,
    I liked your food pics they are really great!! Congrats!
    Spajzgirl

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