Hina Matsuri, also known as Girls’ Day, is coming up this weekend (March 3). Tiers of hina dolls have been popping up in the past few weeks, making for beautiful and eye-catching displays everywhere from shrines to department stores. As the mother of a young daughter, this holiday has taken on even more meaning for me as we spent the last few weeks searching for the perfect keepsake to commemorate our daughter’s connection to the land of her birth.
The history of Hina Matsuri stretches back nearly 1000 years to the Heian Period, when the capital of Japan was in Kyoto. People were quite superstitious of bad spirits and unlucky gods and paper or straw dolls were made and floated down rivers to rid young girls of any evil or sickness attached to them. Some accounts claim the tradition stemmed from ancient Chinese rituals while others claim the death of an Emperor’s daughter prompted the creation of the tradition.
Whatever the case, the celebration of Hina Matsuri again changed in the Edo Period. People with daughters began to display sets of hina dolls in their homes – these sets ranged from simple affairs (an Emperor and an Empress doll with a simple screen background) to the full seven tiers of figures (Emperor, Empress, court attendants, court musicians, etc). No matter the number of dolls on display, all the figures are always dressed in the style of the Imperial Court nearly a millennium ago.
Though I’ve been lucky enough to see some beautiful multi-tier hina displays in the past few weeks, after much searching I actually chose a slightly different form of hina dolls. Nearly 70% of hina dolls are portrayed in a sitting position, a style that originated in the Edo Period. Before that, however, the common style was tachibina, or standing dolls. I hadn’t planned to buy a set of standing hina dolls, but when I saw the set below, I couldn’t resist. I hope someday my daughter values the piece of Japanese tradition we picked out for her.