Hinamatsuri: Japanese families bring out the dolls in elaborate displays

TUESDAY, MARCH 3: Intricately detailed dolls are displayed en masse across Japan and in Japanese communities worldwide, as Hinamatsuri commences.

Known alternatively as “Doll’s Day,” or “Girls’ Day,” Hinamatsuri draws from the custom of doll display that began during the Heian period. When people believed that dolls could contain bad spirits, it was also believed that by floating a doll down a river aboard a simple boat, bad spirits would be carried away, too. Today, few Japanese float dolls out to sea—due to environmental concerns and complaints from fishermen who find dolls tangled in their nets.  Alternatively, the dolls are placed onto boats until after ceremonies are complete, at which time the dolls are recollected and burned in a temple.


Elaborate hina dan, or platforms, used to display Hinamatsuri dolls have seven levels. The top tier holds two imperial dolls—the Emperor and Empress—placed in front of a gold folding screen; the second tier holds three court ladies; the third holds five male musicians. On the fourth platform, two ministers stand on either side of bowl tables; on the fifth tier, samurai are displayed, and on the final two platforms, various furniture pieces, tools and more are placed. When Hinamatsuri is over, dolls are taken down almost immediately, for fears of superstition.

Care to read more? Wikipedia has a detailed overview of the traditions behind these platforms.

While praying for the happiness and health of young girls, families often consume hina-arare, bite-sized crackers, and hishimochi, a diamond-shaped colored rice cake. Sushi rice topped with raw fish and a salt-based soup, ushiojiru, are also commonly eaten on Hinamatsuri. The customary drink is shirozake, a sake made from fermented rice. Though Hinamatsuri is primarily celebrated in Japan, festivities are also held in Hawaii and in select other regions of the world.


This year, a Japanese pastry and confectionery company, Mon Cher, is offering a line of Sanrio-inspired cakes for Hinamatsuri, featuring Hello Kitty and My Melody. (Read more here.) Similarly, many bakeries and food services offer specialty items for Doll’s Day.

At the Kyoto National Museum, an exhibition of historical Hinamatsuri dolls will be back for the first time in six years, as the museum’s new wing has reopened to the public after construction. (The Japan Times reported.) This year, the exhibition will feature dolls from different eras, including a new donation of dolls once commissioned for a baby girl in 1844.