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Celebrating Hina Matsuri
Throwing-away dolls

Museum, school, prefectural sites
--more links on the Commercial Sites page!
The foods of Hina Matsuri, with preparation tips!
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by Judy Shoaf,
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Girls' Day Dolls 

The most exciting of the ningyo are probably the sets collected by Japanese children and kept for display on Boys' Day (May 5) or Girls' Day (March 3). These displays  represent the cultural requirements of manhood and womanhood: the boys' day displays include gods, warriors, armor, a white horse and other valiant animals, while the girls' day ningyo include a hieratic male and female "emperor and empress" (the dairi-bina) attended, insofar as their parents' purses permit, by wise warriors, musicians, ladies serving sake, and other figures of private life, all arranged according to set patterns on the red steps of the hina-dan or tiered display.
    What does it all mean? For many mothers and daughters today, it is a wish for marriage, and comes with a warning not to leave the display up for too long lest marriage be delayed.. For wealthy people 200 years ago, it may have been simply having a bigger and better display than anyone else (laws were made to restrict the size of hina dolls). Through the entire history of the dolls, though, they seem to have been known for their ability to take away the sins of those who treat the dolls properly.


Sites with descriptions and histories of the festival:
 Kyoto National Museum Dictionary, gives pictures and details about the dolls and their evolution through history, including a fine picture of a Tachibina pair as well as several emperor and empress pairs. Be sure to click on the photos of the displays to examine them in detail! 
Rinkya Japanese Auctions has a nice history of the celebration, with details of all the usual dolls and items,  with the special attraction that the illustrations are Japanese auction items on which Rinkya will bid for you.
Spoiling Your Hina Ningyou: Additional Accessories for Hina Dolls offers more details and links to some of the unusual pieces of  "furniture" made for thie hina dolls.
Japan Etcetera - Ohina Ningyô, Tiered Displays - Glossary gives the names of the sets of dolls and objects belonging to each tier of the display
Japanese Festivals is an English description from Japan of this display, giving a contemporary perspective.
MIT Japanese Festivals:  Hinamatsuri offers a simple illustrated explanation.
John Marshall: HINA HISTORY gives a description from the point of view of a dollmaker

Yodoko Guest House in Hyogo Prefecture houses a set of hina dolls crafted in 1900-1901 by the master dollmaker Heizo Oki of the Maruhei doll company, famous for the high quality of their dolls. There is also a photo of a set showing the Meiji Emperor, the Empress, and their court on a cherry-blossom viewing picnic. The site discusses the process of creating these mixed-media dolls.
Travel Japan in Pictures An attractive picture of a large hina doll pair (Dairi-Bina) in a Tokyo shop.
Celebrating Hina Matsuri

    The festival was legally established in 1687; many 18th-century dolls survive now as antiques. Although the basic pyramidal style of the two main dolls persists, there have been many styles and fads over three centuries. Only gradually did the doll-makers of Kyoto and Edo, and their wealthy customers, evolve the full display with at least 15 dolls and plenty of miniature furniture. In the early 20th century it became more accepted that every little girl should have a hina-matsuri display, and various smaller and cheaper formats were devised. Nowadays small sets may be valued by apartment-dwellers, and once again the emphasis is on the two main dolls.

      The general word for the girls' day ningyo is hina (also ohina, and the combination form -bina, as in tachibina, "standing hina," or dairi-bina, the seated royal pair who feature in most displays) and the festival is known as Hina Matsuri (though its proper name may be Momo no Sekku, or Peach Festival).
      A few days before the festival, girls and their mothers take out the hina  and arrange them on a red cloth which may cover a structure, the hina-dan, with as many as 7 steps, each with its own designated set of hina:  the Emperor and Empress (this is the way Americans have always identified them, though the doll pair is much older than the idea of the emperor having a single wife) at the top, three ladies serving them sake on the next step, then five or even ten musicians,  two "guardians" with weapons, and three servants; also included may be toy trees, perhaps made of semi-precious stones, and various toy implements representing a dowry (small chests, carts, and so on).  Girls play hostess to their friends, and also to the ningyo, who are "fed" in tiny dish sets.
    A wonderful film portrayal of the Hina display is Akira Kurosawa's film  Dreams: Yume (1990)  The film consists of a number of short fantastic episodes, and the second one allows a small boy a vision of five complete sets of hina, like the ones his sister is displaying, come to life and dancing for him because of his sorrow at the loss of the family peach orchard. The story emphasizes (as do the film's other episodes) the intimate link between Japanese culture and the Japanese natural environment.

Throwing-away dolls.

The third day of the third month was a day of purification in the Shinto religion from ancient times. The use of dolls in the purification rites is mentioned  in the Tale of Genji, written nearly a thousand years ago. Hina Matsuri has some of its roots in this  festival of purification, Nagashi-bina or Hina Nagashi (throwing-away dolls)i. Thomas Hull writes:

Celebrated on the third day of the third month of a year was the Dolls' Festival (a.k.a. Girls' Festival). This happening originated as a purification ceremony using many folded dolls. "This ritual was performed by breathing on the dolls, rubbing them against one's body to rid oneself of impurities, then throwing the infected dolls into a river to be carried away" (Kenneway, Complete Origami, New York : St. Martin's Press, 1987, p. 82)....Today, this ritual is for young girls in which dolls representing the imperial family are displayed in the house.
-- Fascinating Folds - The History of Origami

This refers to the folded paper doll, resembling a kimono, called a Kata Shiro, used for purification in a Shinto ceremony. The Kata Shiro would be cast into a body of water, or burned, taking the user's sins away. In fact, in the earliest photograph of a hina display, a Kata Shiro of this type shares the dais with the emperor/empress pair. (Source: Luella Tilton Hart, The Japanese Doll, 1952). Another version relates Hina Matsuri to agricultural festivals casting straw dolls on the river

The Nagashi-bina ritual still exists at some Japanese shrines; a boatload of dolls (big display dolls, not paper dolls) is sent to sea on March 3 in connection with the Awashima Shrine of Wakayama Prefecture, a shrine particularly important for women, who pray there for good fortune in marriage and childbirth.  "Hina-nagashi Matsuri (Floating Dolls Festival) - girls and women dedicate dolls to the shrine deity. The dolls are brought to the beach at Kada and floated away on a wooden boat, taking with them all evils and sicknesses that befall women." --Japan File, March 1998

Today in Japan some towns sell "nagashi-bina"sets, paper doll pairs  designed to be set afloat--already sitting in boats of wood or straw; a good photo at Folkcraft.  At the Meiji Shrine these hina are made of environmentally-friendly fish-food!  Similar hina float in round straw "boats" on the river at Hina Matsuri, in a ceremony "for the safety of children" at Shimogamo Shrine near Kyoto. There may even be a ceremony in which participants dress like the most elaborate hina dolls, and set them afloat.

 Doll burning ceremony is a  Japanese-text site that shows some kind of ceremonial cremation involving dolls. Burning Dolls in Ueno Park is a "traveler's tale" of stumbling upon the annual September 25 ceremony in Tokyo. Another site, which is now gone, described in English the burning of dolls in hopes of conceiving healthy children. These ceremonies are quite separate from the March 3 casting of dolls on the water.

The Japanese hold ceremonial burnings of many types of objects--needles and umbrellas,  dolls and toys,  papers, letters, and various other tokens of work accomplished during the year.  In some places there is an annual burning  of Daruma dolls, which represent the year's undertaking. .

To me, as a Westerner, the idea of crafting elaborate and beautiful dolls intended for destruction--by water or by fire--is strange, an idea to think about when I look at these delicate creatures which have a life of their own.

Museum, school, prefectual sites in Japan:
Hita civic Hina display --gigantic display of the hina collections of three important families of the town of Hita 
 Doll's Festival shows several styles of displays from the Tanaka Honke Museum (here sponsored by Watanabesato Pavement Co.).  The Tanaka Honke Museum itself has a page for their 2005 hina doll exhibit, but in Japanese.
Visual Japan: Hina --information and wonderful photos of an empress who really does have 12 layers of kimono!
KIDPROJECT Multicultural Calendar : click on "March" for descriptions of the festival by Japanese girls, to see what the festival means to a child today.
ANNUAL CALENDAR: MARCH "Kidsweb Japan" page with fine photos; there is also an article about a giant display in 2003.
Living In Japan (4th-grader's report) with photos of hina dolls
 Tsurumi Exchange Group Hina Matsuri --a celebration of the festival with an international group and a large hina-dan.
--and don't forget LOTZ Interests: Antique Wood Dolls has illustrations and some information on many types of Japanese dolls, including hina-ningyo.

Woodblock showing a hina-dan, with two young women planning the celebration. The display has several miscellaneous tachibina and dairi bina pairs, rather than one pair and attendants. Mizuno Toshikata, ca.1900