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Japan - Hinamatsuri Festival March 3rd - Say it with Dolls!

 If you happen to be in Japan on March 3rd, take a moment to pray for the growth and happiness of the little girl in your life! Also called Momo no sekku (Peach Festival), because of the peach blossom season, Hinamatsuri (literally Girls' Day) is celebrated all over in Japan, especially in households where there are young girls. The doll displays go up around mid-February, and families will take down the platforms immediately after the festival. It is their belief that leaving the dolls out past March 4 will result in a late marriage for the daughter of the house. Take a look at how the Japanese mark this interesting and unique festival.


 Traditionally, the Japanese believed that dolls possessed the power to contain evil spirits. They used to carry out a custom called  hina-nagashi, in which straw hina dolls were sent down a river on a boat supposedly taking people's troubles with them. Hinamatsuri's origins can be traced back to this tradition. Families observe Hinamatsuri by setting up a display of ornamental dolls on platforms covered with a red carpet. The dolls represent the Emperor, Empress and attendants that made up a traditional court during the Heian period. This is because the custom of displaying dolls originated in the Heian period (794 to 1185).

 All dolled up

 The platform on which the dolls are placed is made up of either five or seven tiers. The Japanese word for platform is hina dan and the covering – a red carpet with rainbow stripes at the bottom – is called dankake. Some people will also place peach blossoms around the platform. The doll arrangement follows a certain pattern:

  1. The top tier holds the imperial dolls; these are the Emperor and Empress placed in front of a gold folding screen.
  2. The second tier is given over to three court ladies.
  3. The third tier is five male musicians each holding a traditional Japanese instrument, except for the singer.
  4. Two ministers sit on the fourth tier and are sometimes equipped with bow and arrows.
  5. Three samurais sit on the fifth tier with a peach or cherry tree to the left, and a mandarin orange tree to the right.
  6. The sixth and seventh platforms are filled with a variety of miniature items like carriages, palanquin etc.

 Hinamatsuri Food

Families will offer rice crackers and other food to the dolls. Guests will be served shirozake, a sake made from fermented rice, bite-sized crackers flavored with sugar, and hishimochi, a diamond shaped rice cake. A salty soup made from clams still in their shell is popular because clams are thought to be the symbol of a united and peaceful couple.

 Hinamatsuri in the classroom

Hinamatsuri is great for classrooms because it emphasizes everything that is positive about being a girl child. Kodomo-no-hi is a festival for boys, more recently called Children's Day, and falls on May 5th. The novelty of Hinamatsuri will guarantee full participation from students and parents alike. Here are some ways to observe the day of the dolls:

  1. Introduce the concept of Hinamatsuri to the class. Show them pictures, bring dolls to the class if possible, and encourage them to discuss why the festival is relevant in modern-day times.
  2. In craft class, consider teaching how to make a Hinamatsuri doll or a Kokeshi Doll, listen to beautiful Asian music with Putumayo’s Asian Dreamland CD. Learn some Japanese words and phrases or use the book A Girls & Boys Day to celebrate the festival
  3. Set up a doll display. Keep it simple with one tier or make it elaborate with five tiers. Don't worry about having to display only Japanese dolls, instead consider getting dolls from the different cultures that co-exist in your class.
  4. Hold a Hinamatsuri cooking class.
  5. Ask Japanese parents if they put up doll displays and plan a visit to their homes.

 This is the day to make a little girl feel very special. So, happy Hinamatsuri!

Article written on behalf of Global Kids Oz by Annie Besant

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