Shinto: It’s a day for dolls and daughters on Hina-matsuri

A Hina-matsuri doll display. Photo in public domain courtesy of flickrSATURDAY, MARCH 3: It’s a day for the dolls in Japan today, as families who observe Shinto traditions mark Girls’ Day. In ancient custom, devotees display an elaborate setup of dolls on seven platforms, representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants and musicians of the Heian period (794-1185 CE); in years past, people believed the dolls could contain bad spirits and would send dolls down a river to the sea. (Hey, kids! Make your own paper dolls for Hina-matsuri, courtesy of Crayola.)

Although few today believe that dolls have any power over evil spirits, many still seize the day to pray for a daughter’s well being and to partake in the customary drinks, shirozake and amazake. Dolls are commonly displayed through today, although legend has it that dolls still up tomorrow could damage a daughter’s future ability to marry.

Alternately termed the Japanese Doll Festival, Hina-matsuri is one reason that collecting dolls is very popular across the country. Some of the displays contain expensive red carpets, authentic doll accessories, ornamental trees and furniture. (Wikipedia has details.) Elaborate doll collections are common—for adults, too—and some collections hold esteemed positions at museums such as the Kyoto National Museum and Peabody Essex Museum.

Looking for a taste of Japan? Many Japanese families will eat chirashi today—a sushi rice sprinkled with sugar and vinegar, with raw fish on top—and several Japanese restaurants, such as the eatery at the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo, will feature special Hina-matsuri menus. Americans typically consume the bacteria used to make cheese and yogurt and similarly Japanese enjoy a type of fungus known as koji that lends to one of today’s most popular traditional drinks: amazake. (Learn more from the Japan Times.) Amazake is sweet (made of fermented rice), and often served hot.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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