Doll Delight by Efrot Weiss – Cultural Insight

Doll Delight BestLivingJapanDoll Delight was written by my good friend Efrot Weiss, who is a long-term resident of Japan. Hinamatsuri is Thursday, March 3rd so study up and enjoy. Here is also a post with lost of info on how to celebrate Girls’ Day!

Doll Delight – March in Japan means the colorful custom of Hinamatsuri.

The elaborate collections of ornamental dolls on display in homes and public spaces around Japan, as well as at the Tokyo American Club, from February are for the March 3 festival of Hinamatsuri, or Girls’ Day.

This custom, which dates back to the Heian period (794–1185), is to celebrate the healthy growth and happiness of girls. The exhibits vary in size, depending on the space available, but, at a minimum, contain a prince and princess (now commonly associated with the emperor and empress) in front of a gold screen.

In more decorative displays, 15 dolls are placed on a seven-tiered platform that is covered in red cloth. Depicting the wedding procession of a Heian period princess, the full retinue consists of three ladies-in-waiting, two court ministers, five musicians and three guards, all dressed in the elegant costumes of the imperial court. Ornate, miniature furnishings, and objects are part of the display.

Exquisitely designed, these pieces are usually for viewing only, although the temptation to touch is often too great for little fingers. “My sister and I secretly played with all of the little dollhouse pieces,” Tokyo American Club Member Masako Hotta says.

Like so many other festivals and holidays in Japan, food is an important part of this celebration. Auspicious dishes include ushiojiru clam soup, the shells of the clams symbolizing a happy matrimony, and chirashizushi, sushi rice with such colorful toppings as shrimp, egg, and vegetables.

Also served is a tricolored, diamond-shaped sticky rice sweet, representing fertility, called hishimochi. The three colors are peach for peach blossoms, white for snow and purity and green to represent the young grass of early spring. Meals often include small, tricolored hina arare puffed rice and a sweet, thick sake (shirozake) as well.

Nowadays, young girls might get together with their girlfriends for a party on March 3. “Hinamatsuri was an excuse to have friends over to eat junk food,” Club Member Rumiko Laughlin recalls.

Explanations for the origin of this festival abound. One has its roots in an ancient Chinese ceremony of transferring ill fortune and evil spirits to paper dolls, which were then cast into a river. During the Heian period, this custom evolved in Japan, when laden paper dolls were floated down rivers. This tradition continues in some communities as nagashibina.

As recounted in the 900-year-old classic work, The Tale of Genji, children in the imperial court would “play house” with paper dolls and miniatures for this celebration. Over time, the dolls became more elaborate.

Hinamatsuri is also referred to as the Peach Blossom Festival because March 3 in the lunar calendar coincided with the blooming of the peach blossom, a flower synonymous with the desired female traits of gentility, sweetness, and tranquility.

One widespread superstition is that the dolls must be put away on March 3 or the daughters of the household will get married late. Hotta says that this tradition was avidly followed in her home: “I always remember that my mother was in such a rush to put everything away by the night of March 3!”

***Efrot Weiss is long term Japan resident and good friend who writes a monthly column for the Tokyo American Club (TAC) Intouch Magazine. BestLivingJapan will be sharing Efrot’s articles about Japan & Intl cultural difference throughout 2015. Thank you Efrot and TAC

First published in the March 2014 issue of Tokyo American Club’s monthly magazine, iNTOUCH.


Doll Delight by Efrot Weiss



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One comment

  1. Very good post. I definitely appreciate this site. Keep writing!

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