Celebrate: Hina Matsuri (Girls’ Day)

Today is officially Hina Matsuri, also known as Girls’ Day, though I must admit I feel like we have been celebrating for quite some time now.  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. I’ve now been to Hina festivals in the Kyushu towns of Yanagawa and Hitoyoshi, where the dolls will be on display for nearly two months.

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.

An elaborate display of hina ningyo (dolls for the girls' festival)
An elaborate display of hina ningyo (dolls for the girls’ festival)

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.

Dolls on display at my friend's home
Dolls on display at my friend’s home

As the mother of a young daughter, this holiday has taken on even more meaning for me and last year, my husband and I gifted our toddler with her own set of keepsake hina dolls. We didn’t quite go the traditional route, though. 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 really planned on bucking tradition but the set was so beautiful, I couldn’t resist. This year, however, while viewing the displays in Yanagawa (more on that in the next entry!), we came across some craftswomen who were selling handsewn hina dolls in the sitting position. So now, to complement our beautiful tachibina, we’ve added a second set.

Handmade hina dolls from Yanagawa (we now own the purple and red figures :P)
Handmade hina dolls from Yanagawa (we now own the purple and red figures :P)

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