Japan celebrates Hina Matsuri, or Girls’ Day, every year on March 3rd. It is a holiday where families to wish for the health and happiness of the girls in their lives. Popularly known as a doll’s festival, Hina Matsuri has ancient origins. This exhibition explores the doll altars, history, food, town shrines, pop culture, memories and wishes associated with this unique festival.
In Japan, the history of Hina Matsuri and its significance to women and girls can be seen through artworks created over the past several centuries. It takes place during the start of the peach blossom season, which is also a popular season to depict in art.
The Edo period, from the 17th to the late 19th century, is when Hina Matsuri became established as an official festival. In the middle of this period, many artworks were made, such as paintings and woodcuts, that provide insight into the celebration.
Through simple triptychs to silk paintings from different stylistic schools, the 18th century was a time of widespread artistic reflection and representation of Hina Matsuri. Watch the video and check out the history gallery below.
Video taken by Girl Museum.
Today many traditions have been translated and appropriated by popular culture. Hina Matsuri has a major pop culture presence in Japan. The celebration can be seen in film, television, animation and music videos. Popular characters, like Licca, Hello Kitty and even Winnie the Pooh have become hina characters on items for the day.
Hina Matsuri themed plates, tea cups, tea towels, phone cards, key chains, bed sheets, fairy lights, and all manner of food, drink and sweets as well. Below are just a selection of Hina Matsuri accessories in popular culture.
View the slide show and video below of Hina Matsuri in pop culture.
Video created by Girl Museum.
The traditional and most popular way of celebrating Hina Matsuri is by displaying the family’s set of dolls, called hina ningyou. These special ceremonial dolls are placed on a seven tier altar called a hina dan covered in a red carpet, the mousen.
The full display represents a spring wedding at the imperial court of Heian. The dolls themselves are usually made of wood, elaborately dressed in silks and accessorized in great detail. For examples of various hina dans, check out the video at right.
Video created by Girl Museum.
SHRINES & CEREMONIES
A popular way to celebrate Hina Matsuri is with public displays of the dolls and altars. The town of Katsura, a small fishing village in Chiba, hosts a large Hina Matsuri festival each year. Locals show their own personal collections in their yards and on their gates. Town sponsored exhibits are found on street corners, shrines, and temples. Together, they make one of the largest public displays of dolls, most of which are set up along the approach to the Tomisaki Shrine.
Another aspect of Hina Matsuri is purification, which is important in Shinto religion. Dolls have been used as part of purification rites since over a thousand years ago, as documented in the Tale of Genji. This tale was written around 1000 CE by Lady Murasaki Shibiku, who lived in the court of the Empress.
The Tale of Genji tells of Prince Genji’s relationships with the women in his life, as well as the relationships of his son, Kaoru. Prince Genji is a connoisseur of fine cultural arts (like writing, painting, and dancing) and loves many women, while Kaoru is drawn to Buddhist asceticism and falls in love with a philosopher’s daughter.
In many of the novel’s illustrations, girls can be seen playing with dolls or using dolls for protection. Murasaki is described as playing with and caring for many dolls, to the point where the dolls are overflowing in her room.
In Chapter 12, the purification ceremony of casting dolls into the sea is described. In it, Genji states that he “thought he could see something of himself in the rather large doll being cast off to sea, bearing away sins and tribulations.”
This purification ceremony is still celebrated today, as shown in the video from Awashima Shrine in Kada. At Awashima, dolls that have been dedicated to the shrine are brought to the beach at Kada and sent away on a wooden boat, taking with them all the evils and sickness that befall girls. It is believed that this act will help to ensure good fortune in marriage and childbirth.
Ceremonial food, in any culture, is a communal experience. Along with showing off Hina Matsuri dolls, food is very important in the Hina Matsuri celebrations. There are traditional foods and drinks enjoyed by families and friends during this festival.
As with much of Japanese food, the shapes and colors are meaningful. Food is represented on the Hina display (hishimochi) and holds symbolic significance in the tradition of the court, represented by the three court ladies serving tea. Click through the tabs to see the food of Hina Matsuri.
Hishimochi is a diamond- shaped sweet rice cake traditionally associated with Girl’s Day. This treat originated during the Edo period to represent fertility.
It is placed on the stand with the dolls, and usually consists of three layers of mochi coloured pink, white and green. Each color has a specific meaning. Pink is symbolic of plum flowers. White represents snow and its purifying effects. And green is believed to be restorative and improves the blood.
Hishimochi is presented to the Hina Matsuri dolls in the days leading up to Girl’s Day. They are eaten as dessert on Girl’s Day.
Hina arare are traditional sweet rice crackers served on Hina Matsuri.
They are made of puffed rice and are colored green for the spring grass, white for the disappearing snow of winter, and pink for the peach blossoms. These colorful arare are only made from January to March in anticipation of Girl’s Day. At other times of the year, they are available in plainer colors.
Today, we call this treat the kakimochi or mochi crunch. In Hawaii, it is popular to mix arare with popcorn.
Shirozake/ Amaze is a type of sake made from fermented rice. It is an indispensable drink for the Hina Matsuri celebrations.
While usually alcoholic for grown ups, the hina sake is cloudy, very sweet and has no alcohol so it is okay for children to drink for the celebrations.
The drink was created between 1600 and 1650, when the founder of Toshimaya (a sake and food company) had a dream in which a paper doll told him how to make the drink. It became very popular during the 1800s, which is when it became part of Girl’s Day.
Chirashizushi/ Scattered Sushi is served in bowls and is usually topped with very colourful ingredients.
Recipes tend to differ from family to family, but it usually contains rice, vegetables and sushi ingredients like shrimp or squid.
There are three main types of Chirashizushi. Edomae chirashizushi (Edo-style) is served with uncooked ingredients on top of the sushi rice. Gomokuzushi (Kansai-style) has cooked or uncooked ingredients mixed into the sushi rice. Sake-zushi (Kyushu-style) uses rice wine, instead of rice vinegar, and is topped with shrimp, sea bream, octopus, shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and shredded omelette.
Sakuramochi/ Cherry cakes consist of the same type of sweet rice found in hishimochi, as well as sweetened bean paste and is rolled in a cherry leaf.
Sakura translates as cherry blossom, denoting the pink color of the cake. The treat is actually made with picked cherry blossom leaves, which are edible. Use of the cherry blossoms signifies the celebration of spring, as well as to wish good luck and good health to girls.
Celebrating Hina Matsuri is important for girls living in Japan and those who have moved to other countries. Click the tabs for stories from three Japanese women from different backgrounds living in different corners of the world, all with Girls’ Day memories in common.
- Kumiko Duxfield—New Zealand
- Nozomi Abe—UK
- Kaji Kayoko—Osaka
- Mizuki Yamato—Japan & Australia
- Minami Matsumoto—Singapore
- Haruka Oizumi—Germany, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Japan
I remember feeling sad about letting it go but she convinced me that we are blessing others by giving to under-pleviledged children who had no dolls to celebrate Hinamatsuri.
When I was a child, I had a very small appetite and was a very difficult eater. My mother, who is an excellent cook, would prepare a special Hinamatsuri lunch for me to take to my kindergarten but I would open the lid of a lunch-box and admire the Hina dolls made of rice-balls and quail eggs and various decorative vegetable & fruits to match them.
I would show it off to my friends and put the lid back on again to take it home uneaten. I could not eat them, as they were so beautiful! My mother, on the other hand was shocked to find that I had not touched the lunch.
The following year, she would prepare a special party for me and neighboring children, to celebrate Hinamatsuri. This was to motivate me to eat the party food with my friends. She failed again because I suddenly became a generous host saying to my friends, ” Isn’t my mother a fantastic cook? They are so beautifully made? You guys enjoy them because I eat these kind of food everyday!” I encouraged them to eat more and watched happily as they enjoyed the food. My mother would ask me, ” Why aren’t you eating? All your friends are enjoying them but you”. “Sure mum, I feel full. I’m so happy to see everyone enjoying them. I’m enjoying the party, so don’t worry”.
My mother tried various ways to entertain, worked hard to prepare delicious food that she became a very good cook. My father would proudly host many parties at our house and sealed successful business deals over meals. We also had and are still having parties with friends, which nurtures friendships.
I bought a Hina-doll set because I enjoy celebrating Himamatsuri. Hinamatsuri without Hina-doll set is like celebrating Christmas without Jesus.
Because I am in NZ, I want to remember and enjoy various Japanese cultural occasions. It is part of my up-bringing and major part of my make up.”
Kumiko Imai-Duxfield moved permanently to New Zealand in 1995 after the Kobe earthquake. She ran her family’s import & export company for just over a decade and has been involved with NZ Japan Society of Auckland, a not-for-profit organization promoting New Zealand-Japan relationships for 13 years.
My family isn’t rich or anything but I guess probably my grand father (who wasn’t particularly rich either) bought the set for me as I was the first grand daughter for him.
There is this superstition thing that if we don’t put the dolls out before the 3rd of March, (or is it if we don’t put them away before April!? I don’t remember one or the other) the owner of the dolls, the girl won’t be able to get married soon enough.
Nowadays, people don’t have space nor time, so the abbreviated version (with only two main dolls) is popular. My mother might still be putting out the two main dolls for me now.
Oh and we have special sake for this. It is called ‘amazake’ which literally means sweet sake. We were allowed to drink this sake even as a child and I LOVED it. (oh what a surprise.) Nowadays, because there’s this high concern about drivers, they sell non-alcoholic amazake (which sucks).
My brother has a doll for Boy’s day. But it’s just one big samurai doll and I always thought girls’ dolls are better as there are so many of them. I wish my dolls were with me here in England, but obviously, it is not realistic to ship 10 boxes of dolls from the other side of this planet.
Nozomi Abe is from Nishinomiya, close to Osaka. She has two Masters degrees (MFA in Creative Writing and MSc in Translation Studies) and currently is a freelance translator/writer based in Norwich, England, mainly work for theatre companies in Tokyo.
Every year, during the Hina Matsuri season, children would make Hina- Dolls and bring home Hina-arare (a special rice-crackers for the Festival).
When I see them, I remember 35 years ago, my last Hinamatsuri at the last year of my kindergarten.
My father was given a notice to move to another city and my mother was expecting with my younger sister and my entry to a primary school was within a short space of time, the family decided to move to the new city where my father was assigned to without waiting for my graduation day at the kindergarten.
We used small Yakuruto bottles to make Hina dolls and we took picture by the dolls. That became my last photo together with the classmates.
On the graduation day for the kindergarten, my father and I drove from the new city in order to attend the graduation ceremony.
It was such a rushed visit that, I don’t even have a picture of the day except the picture with the Hina-dolls they took.
I don’t remember ever complaining or crying about the day but when I see my children bring back the Hina-dolls, I become sentimental every time.”
Kaji Kayoko is the mother of two, a boy and a girl. She is the oldest of three daughters and resides in Osaka with family. Her husband runs a family business, a okonomiyaki restaurant. Story & photos supplied by Kaji Kayoko in Japanese, Translation by Kumiko Imai-Duxfield.
Hina Matsuri is one of the traditional events in Japan and is held on 3rd March every year. In Hina Matsuri, there is a tradition of decorating Hina dolls at homes to wish for the healthy growth and happiness of the girls. We celebrate with peach blossoms, diamond-shaped Hishi mochi, and chirashizushi. Some shops sell cakes with Hina dolls and sweets during Hina Matsuri.
Since dolls represent a wedding ceremony, they also have the meaning of wishing for good marriage, and they are often given as gifts for the first Hina Matsuri. Each doll has a meaning, and the order of dolls is also decided.
When I was a child, I worked with my little brother to line up all the dolls, but it was too difficult to put them in the right places, we always put them in the wrong order and giving small tools to the wrong dolls. But arranging all Hina dolls was one of the fun memories of childhood. By decorating Hina dolls, the house becomes bright and creates a happy atmosphere. Hina Matsuri is one of the few traditional events in Japan for girls, and it has a special meaning.
Since I was young, my parents will display the Japanese dolls in the living room every year, at the start of March. I was born and raised in Singapore, so my grandmother in Japan would send me a box full of snacks or Japanese ingredients to make Japanese meals for Hina Matsuri. One of the most memorable events from childhood I remember is my experience of visiting my Japanese friend’s house to celebrate with Hina Matsuri together. My friends’ mother will prepare some dishes like chirashi zushi (small sashimi pieces over a bed of vinegar rice), clam soup, hishi mochi (rhombus-shaped rice cake that is coloured green, white, and pink), and Hina arare (rice crackers that are usually pink, white, green, and yello) to celebrate Hina Matsuri. We would also wear Yukata (traditional Japanese dress) together, and our parents would help us to wear it. I remember it was always a colourful day, where I would wear pastel-coloured Yukata with my friends and have the delicious Japanese food laid out on the table.
I was born and raised outside Japan and therefore I am less culturally Japanese compared to the Japanese kids born and raised in Japan simply because I was less exposed to Japanese culture. However, I remember wherever I go, every time I move across countries, my parents brought the hina-dan along. The hina-dan was given to me from my maternal grandparents and my mother took very good care of them.
There is a traditional saying that you must not have the hina-dan out after March 3rd, because the daughter’s marriage will be delayed. As I grew older I became passionate about gender issues, and I remember realising how sexist and heteronormative this saying was. Therefore, whenever my mum would tell me “oh no, we have to put away the hina-dan or else you can’t find a husband!” I would reply to her with sarcasm to joke the situation away.
Ever since I gained passion in gender issues, hina-matsuri was a season that reminded me of the importance of balancing tradition and gender issues. I hope that future generations can realise the harm of stereotypical gender roles and heteronormativity, but at the same time preserve the beautiful culture and tradition of Japan.
As a Japanese child born in Singapore, the experience of Hinamatsuri (and the Hina dolls) was part of my early steps of becoming aware of my cultural roots and identity. My grandmother (on my mother’s side) had brought me the Kinekomi Hina doll handmade by herself, all the way from Nagano in Japan for my Hatsu-sekki (baby’s first festival) when I was 0 years old.
The most important aspect of celebrating Hina Matsuri/Girls Day is wishing for the happy and successful future for all girls. Traditionally families would pray for good marriages and health, and while these are still important, now girls are interested in superior exam results and great careers as well.
The wishes in this slide show were made by girls of all ages who visited our September exhibition in Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand. Scroll through to find out what they wished for.
What is YOUR Girls Day wish?
This exhibition was made possible through the financial support of the Asia New Zealand Foundation and the New Zealand Japan Exchange Programme.
Special thanks to the New Zealand Embassy in Tokyo, the Embassy of Japan in Wellington, the Consulate-General of Japan in Auckland, the Wellington City Council, and the New Zealand-Japan Society of Auckland.
Extra special thanks to our champion exhibition team:
- Curator: Ashley E. Remer
- Curatorial Assistant: Julie Anne Young
- Exhibition Assistant: Briar Barry
- Education: Miriam Musco
- Web Production: Lara Band