Oops kind of off topic before I have even started but what better way to launch into a post about a Japanese festival than with a Japanese style haiku. I was visiting my friend and her gorgeous little girl yesterday and saw that she had her dolls on display. These are not any old barbie, these are Japanese Hina dolls and they had pride of place in the living room.
March 3rd. A special day in Japan. It is called Hina Matsuri. There are several translations in English. The most literal, Dolls’ Festival, the informative, Girls’ Day and the alternative seasonal name, Momo no sekku or the Peach Festival as around this time the peach blossom begin to bloom. What ever name you chose to call this day the purpose and celebration is the same. Hina Matsuri is a day to celebrate your daughters and pray for their health and happiness.
Beautiful Hina dolls are displayed in homes blessed with daughters. The dolls represent the Heian court with the empress and emperor at the top resplendent in their wedding garb and their courtiers, musicians and vestal virgins in attendance along with food and accessories for the imperial court.
Hina Matsuri has a long history dating back over 1000 years. It was believed that Hina dolls had the power to contain evil spirits. Kind of an inverted Voodoo doll maybe? There used to be a custom called Hina nagashi. Straw dolls were set afloat and set to sea taking troubles and bad spirits with them.
Then during the Heian period the custom of displaying dolls began. In this modern day and age this is a good thing as these doll sets can range from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.
In times past, I think the meaning of happiness for a daughter had more to do with getting her married off in a timely and seemly manner. Parents did not want to be landed with an old maid daughter. In fact this wish is reflected in some of the customs to do with the festival.
The imperial court scene is a wedding scene with the prince and princess or emperor and empress sitting at the top in traditional Heian court wedding garb. Princess Masako and the imperial prince wore garments like this for their wedding ceremony in 1993.
Shirozake or white sweet sake is the traditional drink. am guessing that is for the parents and not the kids! White is the colour of purification and drinking it is said to purify the body, not a bad thing if you are warding off the evil spirits of a snotty nose. Sake with peach blossoms is also imbibed to ward off injury and illness. Who would have thought a peach blossom could stop you from falling up stairs and a blinding hang over! Flippancy aside sipping sake in a very ritualised ceremony is part of a formal Japanese wedding.
As is to be expected with any self respecting Japanese festival, special foods are served such as delicately coloured Hina arare, small crackers flavoured with sugar and soy sauce, Hishimochi a diamond shaped pounded rice cake and Chirashisushi, a bowl of sushi rice topped with raw fish and a variety of other colourful ingredients. A clear salt based broth, ushiojiru, containing clams in a shell is served. The clam shells are symbolic of a peaceful and united couple who fit together perfectly as only the original pair of shells can. In shops you will find versions of the Prince and princess dolls made from shells.
Beautiful dolls are generally on display from February and superstition dictates that they should be taken down on March 4th as leaving them out may result in your daughter turning into an old spinster and a late marriage.
Nowadays families pray for a happy future and healthy growth for their daughters. The dolls that are displayed can be on a three tiered, 5 tiered or seven tiered stand. They are often family heirlooms passed from generation to generation although it does seem to be the grandparents prerogative to buy a set of dolls if a grandaughter is born. My kiwi friend and his Japanese wife had a lovely little girl. They were just about to make the big move back to NZ. His overjoyed mother-in-law was keen to buy a set of dolls for her first grandaughter. He accepted it with grace but did quietly ask that she consider a smaller set rather than the full fangdangle due to the fact than shipping everything home was going to be quite a mission. Granny nodded sagely and promptly went and bought the biggest set she could possibly find. That will teach him to take her girls away to some foreign land!
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Modern day icons of Hello Kitty and Mickey and Minnie manage to wrangle their insidious way into this revered tradition. I guess the kids can at least pick these one up and have a play!
For all of you lucky enough to have daughters I wish you a peach of a day on March 3rd and hope you have the chance to celebrate your girls! I am going to end with my effort at a haiku.
Princess peach today
Celebrate daughters being
Precious girl blossom
Yoroshiku Onegai shimasu