Hina Matsuri, or Hinamatsuri, is the Doll’s Festival. It is also known as Momo-no-Sekku, the Peach Blossom Festival*. Families with young daughters celebrate with an elaborate platform of ceremonial dolls to ensure their daughter’s future happiness. This dates to a time when happiness came from being married.
The the way they are displayed is very specific. The Hina-Ningyo represents the wedding procession of the imperial princess in traditional court dress of the Heian period. The dolls are put out a few days before the festival and taken down immediately after. If the dolls are left up later than March 4, it is believed the daughter will marry late in life.
The dolls are laid out on a five or seven tiered platform draped in red cloth. (This display may only include the first tier.)
The top tier holds the emperor and the empress dolls. There is also Japanese garden trees, bonbori (lamps), and vases of artificial peach branches.
The second tier holds three court ladies with sake equipment. Accessories include round tables for seasonal sweets, except hishimochi.
The third tier holds five male musicians. Each carries a different musical instrument except the singer, who holds a fan.
The fourth tier has two ministers wearing with bows and arrows. Accessories include tables with hishimochi. There is also a mandarin orange tree a cherry blossom tree.
On the fifth tier, among trees are three helpers or samurai, protectors of the Emperor and Empress.
On the sixth and seventh tiers are a variety of miniature furniture, tools, carriages, etc.
Customary food and drink include shirozake (a sweet, mild rice wine that has been fermented for only one day so the sugar does not turn into alcohol) and colored hina-arare (bite-sized crackers flavored with sugar or soy sauce). Hishimochi is another traditional food. It is a three layered, diamond-shaped mochi treat, though in some places it has five or seven layers. The top layer is pink (red), in some regions it is yellow, and represent peach or plum blossoms. The next layer is white, representing snow. the last layer is green representing grass. Most dishes served during the celebration are green, white, peach-pink and yellow, the festival colors.
Other foods might be:
- Chirashizushi: sushi rice flavored with sugar, vinegar, topped with raw fish and other things
- Ushiojiru: salt-based soup called containing hamaguri clams still in the shell (Clam shells in food symbolize a united and peaceful couple.)
- Hamaguri-zushi: small balls of sushi rice wrapped in thin omelet and shaped to resemble hamaguri clams
- Sakura mochi: sweet pink mochi (rice cake) and red bean paste, covered with a sakura leaf (cherry blossom leaf which his edible)
- Sekihan: sticky rice steamed with azuki beans giving is a pinkish-red color
- Ichigo daifuku: fresh strawberries wrapped in sweet adzuki bean paste and mochi
This celebration stems from the Heian period. People believed the dolls possessed the power to contain bad spirits. During a customs called hina-nagashi (doll floating), straw hina dolls in minature boats were set adrift on the river to be taken out to sea, taking misery and hardships with them. The Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto still floats dolls on straw mats down the stream that runs through the temple grounds and prays for the safety of children.
*This holiday used to follow the Lunar Calendar and fell closer to April when peach blossoms began to bloom. Though the trees no longer bloom during the festival they peach blossoms are still an important decoration for the celebration.