The Hina Matsuri

Born in the 17th century, in the Edo period, the Hina Matsuri, also called "Girls' day", is celebrated within families. It's the time to wish health and happiness to the little girls of the family. Every year, on March 3rd, people ornate display shelves covered by a red cloth with very unique dolls. You can see them everywhere in Japan from February to March


The celebration

At the origin of the tradition, dolls were set on little boats along rivers and by floating down the stream they were said to take the evil away (Nagashibina). It was also the opportunity to pray for children's safety. This custom of setting boats in the rivers was abandoned as it would bother fishermen. Nowadays, the boats are collected after the celebration and burned in temples. 

This celebration is the chance for little girls to unpack and display their dolls, that are usually treasured and passed down from mother to daughter. Families start displaying their dolls in February and put them away just after the festival. According to the legend, leaving dolls out after February 4th would mean late marriage for the young girl.

During the celebration, people usually drink shirozake, a sweet sake made from fermented rice. It is also common to eat a little sugar or soy sauce cracker, the flavor depending on the region, called hina-arare, as well as a rice cake, the hishimochi. Other treats are round sushis, the temarizushi, and a salty soup with seafood representing unity and family peace called ushioiiru



The dolls: hina-ningyô

The dolls usually represent the emperor, the empress and the traditional musicians of the court during Heian period. During that time, these dolls were said to retain bad spirits

The dolls have to be displayed in a specific order that differs depending on the region. The platform on which the dolls are set is called the Hina dan, and the red cloth the dankake or hi-mosen. Of course, no matter the region, the emperor and his wife always have to be set on the top of the display case. 

On the second platform are displayed the companions "Sannin-kanjo", the 3rd line is the line for the musicians "Gonin-bayashi". The 4th platform is reserved for the ministers "Zuishiin" and the maids "shichô". 

Sometimes the display case has more platforms and some accesories with a specific meaning are displayed between the dolls.



Where to see dolls exhibitions?

In Kyoto, visit the Shimogamo-Jinja (in the temple complex of Kamo dating back from the 7th century) to celebrate the Nagashibina. In this complex, boats carrying the dolls are sent between the Takano and Kamo rivers, and float away in a prayer for children's health.

To admire these dolls in Tokyo, don't hesitate to visite the Hyakudan Kaidan, a building closed the rest of the year. On March 3rd, a side of the building is open to visitors in order to celebrate the "Hyakudan Hina-matsuri". Through the 7 rooms you can discover an impressive collection of dolls from the Edo period. The ticket for the exhibition costs 1500¥.

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