The Doll Festival


The Doll Festival, or Hina-matsuri in Japanese, is the Girlsf Festival observed annually on March 3. Dolls dressed in beautiful Heian-era costumes, which are representing the Emperor, Empress, and their court, are displayed, often on a special step-altar, to celebrate the growth of the familyfs girls and to express their hopes that they will become as graceful and beautiful as the Heian nobility.

Also called gMomo-no-Sekku (Peach Festival),h it originates in gJomi,h representing one of five seasonal periods, which falls on a day of serpent in early March. Sekku, or festival in English, held on each period has been an event wishing health and driving  the seasonfs sins and bad luck away using the seasonal flowers, trees and herbs, since the Heian Period (794-1185).

Even the Jomi day, however, was gradually taken over by gNagashi-bina,h a ritual of setting paper dolls adrift on rivers, together with peoplefs sins and bad luck. gHinah or gbinah in Japanese originally mean a gmodelh in English, which refers to a doll that is modeled after people.

Dolls thereby started to spread as an indoor play thing and people gradually started using them as displays on the Peach Festival. We can even find the word gdollsh in the famous Tale of Genji. Dolls in the early period are said to have been extremely simple, and it is presumed that children played with them, changing their clothes and playing at keeping house.

In the Edo Period, the government proclaimed March 3 the day of Peach Festival. Of the five Sekku, all but Choyo, or Chrysanthemum Festival on September 9, have remained even up to this day, being celebrated as traditional festivals. (Other three festivals are Jinjitsu, or Feast of the Seven Herbs of Health on January 7, Tango, or the Boyfs Festival on May 5, and Shichiseki, or Star Festival on July 7.)

During the shogunate of Tokugawa Iemitsu (1623-1651), it has become a custom to make a present of a set of hina dolls to all the baby girls newly born in the inner palace. It is said to have started when members of the Shogunatefs cabinet presented a set of hina dolls to Chiyohime, eldest daughter of Iemitsu, on March 1, 1644, to commemorate her 7th birthday.

Since then, hina dolls have increasingly become gorgeous and luxurious. Their faces have become more realistic and their costumes have become more elaborate. Many accessories have also been made to decorate the step-altar. Simultaneously, the custom has gradually spread to rich merchant families and local rulers as the very prototype of current festival.

Accessories vary depend on the time and areas they have been made. Usually, they have been modeled after the wedding trousseau of royal and shogunate families. While many sets of hina dolls come with such items as cow carriages and tea sets, some others have been made in a way so faithful to facts that they even come with futon mattresses, bath basins and kitchen tools. Popular items also include cherry and orange trees, in addition to peach flowers, which come from the famous left guards officerfs cherry tree and right guards officerfs orange tree at the Kyoto Palace.

Usually the prince is placed on onefs left-hand side in eastern Japan; it is place on onefs right-hand side in western Japan. (There seems to be no established reason for this.)

People annually start displaying hina dolls 10-20 days before the festival. And it is customary to put them away as soon as possible after March 3 since leaving the hina dolls out too long is said to delay marriage of the familyfs girls.