Hinamatsuri: Japan marks Girls’ Day, doll displays and Baskin Robbins treats

Young girl standing over table of elaborate Japanese dolls and accessories

A girl examines a doll display for Hinamatsuri. Photo by Timothy Takemoto, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, MARCH 3: Anticipate the aroma of cherry blossoms and indulge in the elaborate beauty of dolls as Japanese communities across the globe celebrate Hinamatsuri. Alternatively called the Japanese Doll Festival, or Girls’ Day, Hinamatsuri sprung up from the ancient Japanese custom of floating dolls down a river in a tiny boat, in belief that the dolls would take any bad spirits with them. During the Heian period (Heian meaning “peace,” or “tranquility,” in Japanese, and representing the last division of classical Japanese history) it became customary to display dolls, too.

Today, Hinamatsuri serves as an opportunity for young girls, families, shops and museums alike to set out their best display of Hina dolls. The dolls are traditionally arranged on seven platforms, and community members pray for the health and well being of young girls.

The dolls on a Hinamatsuri set of platforms may be simple or elaborate, but placing instructions are, customarily, very specific. The entire stand of dolls must represent the Emperor, Empress, attendants and musicians of the Heian period—all in traditional attire. (Wikipedia has details.) The first platform displays the Emperor and Empress, in front of a golden screen; the second platform holds three court ladies, each of which hold sake equipment. The third platform presents five male musicians; the fourth platform demonstrates two ministers, a mandarin orange tree and a cherry blossom tree. On the fifth platform, three helpers protect the Emperor and Empress; on the sixth and seventh platforms, a variety of doll furniture and tools is displayed.

Most doll displays are constructed in February, although superstition prevents them from being left up after March 3. Outside of Japan, Hinamatsuri is met with revel in Florence, Italy, in Hawai’i and in Japanese communities worldwide.

Chirashizushi (rice topped with raw fish), sugar- or soy-flavored crackers and sake made from fermented rice are all popular fare for the day.

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Pink gelatinous balls covered with a cherry blossom leaf, edible

Sakuramochi treats for Hina Matsuri, traditionally made with cherry blossom leaves and pink rice cake. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

These days, Hina doll displays are so popular that they are making headlines far and wide: The Portland Japanese Garden, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo, Mitsui Memorial Museum and Meguro Gajoen in Tokyo are just a few of the places advertising their doll platforms and goings-on for Hinamatsuri.

Baskin Robbins is taking a cue from the holiday and has released five new ice cream dolls in a tiered box, each in a different flavor—representing, of course, the Emperor and Empress and their attendants. (Fox News reported.)

Starbucks has also taken a cultural prompt with this season’s springtime sakura beverage lineup, which reflects Hinamatsuri’s sakuramochi (a Japanese confectionery of pink rice cake, red bean paste and a cherry blossom leaf). Drinks boasts white chocolate, sakura flowers and leaves and strawberry infused whipped cream—but, unfortunately for international clients, this lineup is only offered in Japan.