Hina matsuri is a seasonal festival (called sekku) on March 3rd. Hina matsuri is called "Hina-no-Sekku" "Hina-Matsuri" (Doll I s Festival) or "Momo-no-Sekku" (Peach blosson's Festival) which used to be one of the important seasonal events of ancient China and has now developed into a function symbolic of Japanese arts and customs and has been in existence in Japan since the Edo Period (17 - 19 centuries). Also it is considered as a day for girls, most families with girls celebrate it for praying their health and happiness.
On this day families with young daughters celebrate this event at home to ensure their daughter's future happiness. That is, they decorate hina-Ningyo (special, beautiful dolls which are replicas of an ancient emperor and empress and their subordinates).
The dolls are not the everyday dolls usually played with but are ceremonial dolls, a heritage of the household, handed down, many of them, from generation to generation. They are displayed for a few days in the best room of the house at this festival time, after which they are carefully boxed and put away until the next year. Parents who are able to do so buy new sets of dolls for a girl baby born since the preceding festival, and relatives and friends make gifts of dolls.
Peach blossoms, symbolizing a happy marriage, are indispensable decorations of this festival day. The blossoms signify the feminine traits - of gentility, composure and tranquility.
A set of Hina-dolls usually consists of at least 15 dolls, all in the ancient costumes. The display also includes miniature household articles which often are exquisite artistic productions. The dolls most highly valued are the Dairi-sama, which represent the Emperor and Empress in resplendent court costumes of silk. They are attended by their two ministers, three kanjo (court ladies), and five court musicians. All are displayed on a tier of steps, usually five, from 3 to 6 ft. long and covered with bright red cloth. This stand is specially set up in the home only on this day.
The Imperial couple occupy the top step, the Emperor at the left of the Empress. Court ladies and banquet trays and dishes occupy the second tier; the other dolls are arranged on the lower tiers.
In the old days, on March 3 by the Lunar Calendar, all the people, men, women and children, made crude dolls of paper, and in making them they transferred their ill fortunes or sickness to the dolls. Gathering the dolls, they went together to a nearby brook or river, and cast them, bearing all their evils, into the water. It was thus an occasion for a family outing, just when the pleasant sprinv season started. Also the date which this festival is heid marks the onset of spring.
Hina-matsuri used to be one of the very few occasions when little Japanese girls had their own parties. It was customary uD to the prewar years for them to invite their small friends to these parties at which they partook of the sweets and food offered to the dolls. Sometimes they cooked and prepared the food and cakes to be offered to the dolls. Ttiey drank Shirozake, a sweet mild rice wine, on the occasion. The main offerings are small cakes - hishi mochi (diamond-snaped rice cakes) fruit-shaped candy, tiny white and red dt-sties of osekihan (glutinous rice boiled with red beans) and colored wheat gluten. The colorfulness of both the dolls and the young girls adds to the gaiety of this festival. Old country families still treasure their family hina-matsuri dolls and doll furniture which are preserved for centuries. Brides used to take their own dolls to their new homes.
Many interpretations are given about the festival. Families observe it to encourage filial piety, ancestor worship, loyalty, but above all is the love of children by Japanese parents, their joy and pride in them, and their desire to please them, and this love often impels noor parents to sell some of their belongings to buy dolls and decorations for the festival.
This festival had its origin about 1,000 years ago in the Heian Period (794-1192). It is a traditional custom to display ceremonial dolls on tiers of shelves covered with scarlet carpet. These dolls are dressed in the fashion of the people of the ancient court. The Emperor and Empress are placed on the upper-most tier, followed by the ladies in waiting and ministers.
There is a superstition about hina
dolls. If a girl does not put away the dolls quickly after the Hina Festival, then she will not get married for a long time.
Nearly 13,000 American friendship dolls were sent to Japan in 1927 to join together with Japanese dolls to celebrate Hina Matsuri
. The article on Doll Messengers of Friendship from America provides details on how Japanese girls celebrated Hina Matsuri
in the 1920s.