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Celebrating Hinamatsuri: The Japanese Doll Festival

Hinamatsuri (Japanese Doll Festival) is a special Japanese holiday dedicated to praying for the well-being of little girls. This holiday is unique to the Japanese culture, and is steeped in both traditional and modern cultural values and beliefs.

In this article, you’ll learn many interesting Japanese Doll Festival facts, from the holiday’s origins to how it’s celebrated today. Are you ready? Let’s get started!

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1. What is the Japanese Traditional Doll Festival?

The Japanese Doll Festival (Hinamatsuri), unique to Japan, is a festival that prays for the healthy growth of little girls.

The history of Hinamatsuri goes back a long way. It’s said that the hihina (or hiina) play, which involved making little dolls out of paper or earth and dressing them in clothes, and which went on over a thousand years ago, was the prototype of the modern-day Hinamatsuri.

Gradually, this evolved into a custom called Nagashibina, which was to pray for sound health. During Nagashibina, these dolls were used as substitutes for real people, had people’s bad luck transferred to them, and were sent floating down the river.

After this, with the passing of time, it became typical for the dolls to be displayed and admired indoors, as they are today, as mamori-hina. The mamori-hina watch over the happiness and growth of the daughter of the house.

A girl’s first Doll Festival is referred to as 初節句 (hatsuzekku). For this celebration, the maternal grandparents often give a set of dolls. With this gift, they place a wish that the doll will be used as a scapegoat so that their cute granddaughter will not suffer from disaster.

2. Japanese Doll Festival Date

Peach Blossoms

Each year, the Doll’s Festival takes place on March 3. If you match it to the old Japanese calendar, Hinamatsuri takes place when the peach trees are blooming.

3. Japanese Doll Festival Activities and Displays

People display a set of graceful dolls in ancient court costumes on a tier of five to seven shelves, which is called 雛人形 (Hina Ningyō). The dolls are arranged as follows:

  • Emperor and Empress Dolls: Called 内裏雛 (だいりびな), these are displayed on the top shelf. Generally, the emperor doll is placed on the left side and the empress doll on the right. This custom also influences weddings—the groom sits on the left, and the bride on the right. Gold folding screens are arranged behind the emperor and empress dolls on a red felt carpet.
  • Three Court Ladies: Called 三人官女 (さんにんかんじょ), these are displayed on the second tier from the top. The court ladies care for the emperor and empress.
  • Five Court Musicians: Called 五人囃子 (ごにんばやし), these are displayed on the third tier from the top. The musicians are often depicted playing different musical instruments for the amusement of the emperor and empress.

People usually display the dolls a few weeks in advance of March 3. Some dolls are exquisite and have seven or eight layers of decoration. The value of such dolls can be more than 500,000 yen (or over $4,500). There are also popular compact types that can be decorated easily and stored in apartments and rental housing.

On the Doll Festival, these dolls are offered 菱餅 (hishimochi), or “diamond-shaped rice cakes,” and ひなあられ (hina-arare), or “sweet rice crackers.” A celebration is then held in front of the dolls, during which people consume lots of Japanese Doll Festival food and drinks. These include 白酒 (しろざけ), or “white sake,” and a meal of chirashizushi and clam soup.

It is said that it’s best to put away the dolls as soon as the festival is over. This is because of the saying “late to clear away then late to marry.” Some believe that “a daughter who cannot clean will not become a good bride.”

4. Momo no Sekku

Do you know which flower is used for Doll’s Festival decorations, and why?

The correct answer is a “peach blossom.” Peach blossoms bloom from the end of March to the beginning of April of the lunar calendar, just around the time of the Doll’s Festival. For this reason, the festival is also known as 桃の節句 (Momo no Sekku) or “Peach Seasonal Festival.”

In the past, peaches were believed to have the power to purge evil spirits. Therefore, peach blossoms are used as decorations for the Doll’s Festival to obtain the protection of peaches and help girls grow up healthy. 

5. Must-Know Vocab for the Japanese Doll’s Festival

Japanese Emperor and Empress Dolls

Ready to review some of the vocabulary words from this article? Here’s a list of the essential vocabulary words you’ll need to talk about the Doll Festival in Japanese!

  • ひな祭り (ひなまつり) — “Doll Festival”
  • 白酒 (しろざけ) — “white sake”
  • 三人官女 (さんにんかんじょ) — “three court ladies”
  • 桃の花 (もものはな) — “peach blossom”
  • ぼんぼり (ぼんぼり) — “paper lamp”
  • 右大臣 (うだいじん) — “minister of the right”
  • 左大臣 (さだいじん) — “minister of the left”
  • お雛様 (おひなさま) — “hina doll”
  • 雛あられ (ひなあられ) — “hina arare
  • 金屏風 (きんびょうぶ) — “gold screen”
  • 五人囃子 (ごにんばやし) — “five court musicians”
  • 女雛 (めびな) — “empress doll”
  • 男雛 (おびな) — “emperor doll”
  • 内裏雛 (だいりびな) — “emperor and empress dolls”
  • 菱餅 (ひしもち) — “diamond-shaped rice cake”
  • 蛤のお吸い物 (はまぐりのおすいもの) — “clear broth soup with clams”
  • ちらし寿司 (ちらしずし) — “chirashi-zushi”

To hear the pronunciation of each word, and to read them alongside relevant images, visit our Japanese Doll’s Festival vocabulary list!

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed learning about the Japanese Doll Festival with us! Are there any similar holidays in your country, or is this holiday very new to you? Let us know in the comments!

If you’re interested in learning more about the unique Japanese culture and holidays, you can visit the following pages on JapanesePod101.com:

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