In a country where blinding LEDs billboards and rich ancient traditions compete for relevance in the growing tourism sector, Hina Matsuri (雛祭り or ひなまつり) prevails on March 3 every year as a historical cultural festival to celebrate Japan’s younger female children. Sometimes referred to as Girl’s Day or Doll’s Day, it marks the celebration of younger girls, generally up to their 10th birthday, using special ornaments or dolls that are stood on top of a multi-platform display covered in red carpet or fabric.
The display itself is representative of the historical aristocratic period, featuring dolls of the Emperor, Empress, distinguished guests, musicians and more, all outfitted in prestigious traditional attire.
Setting up of the arrangement typically begins a few days before the big day, and traditionally needs to be put away at the end of the day. The primary concept of the celebration is that in creating this arrangement each year will result in a wealthy and prosperous life for the family’s daughter. In contrast, packing away the set after March 3 was believed to be a bad omen for the family, and particularly for the daughter, resulting in prolonged delays before she would finally wed. These days though families usually keep the arrangement in place throughout the month of March to fend off the rainy season that soon follows.
The main set of dolls usually includes the main pair, one male and one female, depicting the highest stature in royalty, usually referred to as the emperor and empress, and is a portrayal of their official wedding ceremony. The dolls used in the display can be as simplistic as paper cutouts, to thicker cardboard models or even intricately detailed three-dimensional ornaments.
Displays themselves can feature a single level or multi-level display, called 雛壇 (ひなだん or Hinadan), and features at least an emperor and empress. More elaborate displays may be accompanied by distinguished guests, muscians, servants and more. The female dolls, known as 雛盛り ( ひなざかり or Hinazakari), generally can be quite expensive, and so the amount used depends on the family budget, with a single ornament reaching upwards of US$2,500.
Parties are also commonplace amongst younger girls too, where families and friends will get together to celebrate with typical dishes like 雛あられ (hina-arare aka rice crackers), ちらし寿司(chirashizushi which is raw fish and vegetables on rice), 菱餅 (hishimochi meaning multicolored rice cakes), イチゴ大福 (ichigo daifuku a dish consisting of strawberries wrapped in adzuki bean paste), and うしお汁 (ushiojiru or clam soup, as clamshells represent a joined pair). It is also a regular tradition to drink 甘酒 (amazake, a non-alcoholic sake).
Asakusabashi, which is very close to Ryogoku and Asakusa, is a very well known area specialising in traditional dolls, and especially 雛人形 (ひなにんぎょう or Hinaningyō). It is a popular place to visit during the year, and of course on Hinamatsuri to see the impressive detail and crafting required to create what is used in such an important cultural ornament.