Dating back over a thousand years to Japan’s Heian period, Hinamatsuri, also known as Doll's Day and Girls' Day , is a decorative celebration of the health, wellbeing and happiness of young girls. Today, many Japanese families still honor the 3 March holiday with children's parties and a display of custom-made dolls dressed in the sumptuous garments of a traditional Heian imperial court.
Yet many believe the celebration has the far less ostentatious origins of an ancient purification ritual, once performed to cleanse participants of impurities and ward off future misfortune. In a religious custom, men and women would use paper or straw dolls as effigies that were cast away downstream, taking with them impurities, bad spirits and negative energy.
As the dolls became more elaborate, it also became popular with the daughters of aristocratic families to play with them, evolving into the belief that the dolls would act as conduits, attracting wealth and prosperity for the daughters.
A set of Hinamatsuri Dolls Day S KITAHASHI CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Traditionally, a household would display a full court of dolls — from the Emperor and Empress to guards and musicians — a collection that would take up several tiers of a raised platform draped in red cloths. Pink peach blossoms — the flower of the season, according to the Chinese lunar calendar — would complete the set, giving the event its other name of the Peach Blossom festival.
Ornate and valuable, the dolls and their accoutrements were often bought for the newborn girls of a family, or passed down from generation to generation.
Nowadays, families are more likely to display dolls of the Imperial couple alone and celebrate with children's parties in the week before the day. But festivals across Japan still offer major displays of Hinamatsuri dolls for everyone to see.
In Tokyo, vintage dolls are displayed on the Hyakudan Kaidan (Hundred Steps Staircase) of the Meguro Gajoen building, while department stores often showcase historical and new styles of festival dolls. To experience something more akin to the Hinamatsuri’s origin, the “doll floating” at the Edo Nagashibina Festival in Tokyo’s Asakusa district, involves dropping little paper dolls into the Sumida River to drift away, taking with them bad spirits and woes.
One of the most famous and striking celebrations, however, can be found in Chiba Prefecture, where the Katsura Big Hinamatsuri Festival involves around 30,000 dolls displayed throughout the city and on the steps of the Tomisaki Shrine.
We find this auspicious day a perfect excuse to treat the kids — so why not take a look at our Children's Collection of bright and cheery items and have a little fun.
Read our other NiMi Projects journal articles here.