In Japan, March 3rd is a traditional celebration day of girls called “Hina-matsuri.” The color of pink symbolizes the day, and a lot of pink colored stuff on the streets reminds me that the season is coming. In department stores, you can see colorful dolls sitting in front of a shining golden folding screen. I used to really enjoy this event as a child, but I have stopped celebrating it as I got older… This time, I would like to introduce this wonderful Japanese event with a little bit of its history, and contemporary designs relating to it. Slowly Spring is coming…
Written by Ryoko
Translated by Junko
The overall idea of Hina-matsuri is to wish girls a healthy growth. In a family where a baby girl is born, parents give a set of dolls called “Hina-Ningyo” to the baby at her first Hina-matsuri hoping that she will grow happy, healthy and beautiful. Every year they keep decorating the dolls on the day of Hina-matsuri and hold a party to celebrate the child’s growth with some cake or tiny rice cakes.
Although most people call it “Hina-matsuri”, it is sometimes called “Momo-no-Sekku” and there are two reasons for it: 1) flowers of the Momo-tree (peach tree) blossom around this time of the year. 2) There is a Chinese legend saying that “The peach keeps bad things away and maintains one’s health.”
Nagashi-Bina (Hagi-shi official website)
Bonbori (paper lantern) Nagashi-Bina (Hagi-shi official website)
So the whole thing can be seen as a traditional, very sophisticated annual playing with dolls, basically. There are certain rules as of how to arrange them, what they wear, what they carry in their hands etc. We will get to that in a second!
In the old days people did not keep the Ohina-sama (dolls) at home, but disposed them because they believed that the dolls would take away their bad luck with them. At one point, however, they realized that throwing dolls into the rivers caused a problem of river pollution, and besides people started to enjoy decorating the dolls at home instead of throwing them away. Now here is how to do it!
Hina-Kazari (Dolls decoration)
According to Wikipedia, how the dolls are dressed is based on lives of the old aristocrats in the Heian-period in Japan and the full traditional set consists of 15 dolls arranged on 7 stairs of pedestals in a certain order.
The Ohina-sama main-female-doll stands for an empress and sits on the very top, together with the main-male-doll Odairi-sama – which then of course symbolizes an emperor.
The empress-doll is dressed in colorful Juni-hitoe, which basically means that she is wearing a lot of kimonos.
On the second level, there are three court ladies who take care of the empress. Five musicians are put on the third stair, on the rank below you’ll find two ministers who serve the emperor and on the lowest rank are 3 helpers to clean the palace.
If you take a close look at them you will notice that they are made so carefully in their details, the hair and fingers, …they look like they are just about to move any moment.
What do they carry in their hands??
There is an amazing set of tools that the dolls carry and those are made so exact and carefully – it’s insane!
The doll empress holds a fan in her hand, and the emperor has the tool ladle to straighten dignity. In three court ladies’ hands, a long knob Choshi (a tool to pour Sake) and sho-chiku-bai decoration can be found. Five musicians have musical instruments, such as a whistle, a small drum, and a big drum etc. The ministers have arrows on their backs, a bow in their hands, and swords on their waist. And the palace cleaners carry cleaning tools such as broom, dustpans and rakes.
Holding Choshi (to pour Sake)
Minister of Right
Cleaning Staff! The broom looks so real!
The most outstanding thing among a set of decoration is a shining golden folding screen on the top. The screen had been found very useful in old times as a windbreaker. Also, there is a beauty of lanterns, trees of cherry blossoms and wild oranges. The world of the dolls is said to look like the Kyoto-Gosho, the Kyoto Imperial Palace.
a old Japanese light Bonbori
lots of oranges on the wild orange!
Even this tiny decoration has drawers that really work! Amazing!!
A glossy gold and black tier of boxes
In addition, there is a series of trousseaus the doll empress brings in such as a chest of drawers, dressing tables, and workboxes… These are made imitating the trousseau in a large distinguished family or the general family, and the shape of them has changed in each period.
Small old fashioned externals
Now what do you think happens every year, when you take out this box of all the dools and their tools!?? I will tell you what happens: you will find yourself staring at a big mess of dolls, bits and pieces and have absolutely no memory as of what goes where, who is supposed to hold which bit in their hands…
Therefor costume designer Kozue Hibino came up with a good idea for the dools: “to keep the beauty of traditional dolls, but to make it compact to suit our modern lifestyle”. Well, she basically created a box out of light paulownia that is divided into tiny tiny spaces to make sure you store all the miniature tools in their right place.
I just find it amazing, that something so traditional has prevailed for such a long time but that it took until now for someone to come up with a solution for this unavoidable mess…
It’ s easy to take them out!
Beautifully stored dolls.
Many kinds of Ohina-sama
Now these dolls have come a looong way, which is why there are tons of differnt kinds, realistic ones, abstract ones, cheap ones, expensive ones… Here is just a small taste!
Food at Hina-matsuri
There are all kinds of food at the annual doll celebration: sake, tiny rice cakes, cake and also peaches and felon herbs which are said to remove bad luck. The most typical food is a “water caltrop rice cake” in which green, white and pink color overlap.
Green stands for health (earth) while white means cleanliness (snow) and pink stands for the peach flower. A lot of stories exist related to the origin of the water caltrop rice cake. The most heartwarming one among them may be that it expresses the look of a day when spring has just come …a peach tree that carries pink flowers standing on the still-snow-covered earth.
water caltrop rice cake motif snack Okoshi
Hina-Arare (tiny rice cakes)
Hina-matsuri contemporary products
Various Hina-matsuri motif snacks line up in shops and supermarkets around this time. I found a Hina-matsuri special version of “caramel corn” series produced by Tohato that Pingmag introduced before in our packaging design article.
Caramel corn Hina-matsuri version
Hello Kitty Hina-Arare
In my childhood, I remember enjoying this three-colored jelly that the elementary school served on this very day.
There are so many Hina-matsuri designed goods!
mothball by Kincho
Here is one by Hakugen
It is said that a girl will miss a good chance to get married if she doesn’t put away her doll-decoration soon after Hina-matsuri. Why? Because it is based on the old idea that girls should be organized and tidy in order to become a good wife. So, forget the brainwash, girls and have a lovely girls-day anyway!
Today, not many families display 7-stair-Hina-kazari as lifestyle has changed. But, it is such a shame to keep this wonderful gift from old time in a storeroom or a loft. Why don’t you pull them out today and put them as a small cute decoration? It will surely bring spring to your room!