Hinamatsuri ("hina" is a doll, "matsuri" is a festival) is the Japanese doll festival. It is also called Girls' festival. It is held on the 3rd of March.

Platform with ornamental dolls Platform with ornamental dolls

The tradition is to put different ornamental dolls ("hina-ningyō") on special 7 level platform ("hina dan") covered with red cloth ("himosen"). "Dankake" or "mousen" is the name of a level in the platform.

Hinamatsuri has a long history. The tradition started in the Heian ("peace and tranquillity") period ("Heian jidai"). It was a period in the Japanese history from 794 to 1185. In this period the Japanese imperial court reached its peak.

Japanese people used to believe that dolls can be alive and have bad spirit. Roots of the Hinamatsuri can be found in an old tradition called "hina nagashi" or "doll floating". People made straw hina dolls and set them floating down the river. They believed that this will take all troubles or bad spirits away from them.

Kamigamo Jinja - one of two Shimogamo Shrines
Kamigamo Jinja - one of two Shimogamo Shrines

Very similar tradition is still observed in the Shimogamo Shrine (part of the Kamo Shrine complex located in Kyoto). They call it "Nagashibina". They used to put the dolls in the Takano and Kamo rivers. It is done to pray for the safety of children. But due to the fact that local fishermen often "caught" the dolls in their nets they now organize the tradition at sea. When the audience, who always gather to watch everything, leaves organizers pick all the dolls from the sea. They bring them back to the temple and burn them there.

Amazake drink

Hinamatsuri has close relations with the world of cuisine. During Hinamatsuri the Japanese drink "amazake". What is it? It is sweet, non-alcoholic drink made from fermented rice.


And the food? Well, there are several dishes that are served. "Arare" are crackers flavoured with some soya sauce. Chirashizushi is very popular too. It is made of sushi rice with some sugar, vinegar, raw fish and a several other ingredients. They are as always chef's little secret. There is more. When in Japan during Hinamatsuri you must also try a special soup made of soya sauce and clams. Clam shells have symbolic meaning. The Japanese think of them as symbols of united, ideal couple.

Arare crackers

Let's now tell few words about dolls which are placed on the platform ("hina dan").

On top layer people put two Imperial dolls ("da-i-ri-bi-na"). These dolls represent the Emperor ("O-dairi-sama") and Empress ("O-hina-sama"). Behind these dolls there is usually "byōbu" or gold folding screen.

Between the dolls people put accessories known as "sanbou kazari". They include two wases ("kuchibana"). Several more objects can be put on this level – "bonbori" or lampstands and "hibukuro" or silk lanterns. Hibukuro often has beautiful cherry or plum blossom patterns.

Emperor Doll and two court ladies
Emperor Doll and two court ladies

The level two includes three dolls representing court ladies ("san-nin kanjo"). Each of these dolls holds objects used when drinking sake. Each lady has different function. Both lady on the left and right are standing. The lady in the middle is sitting. The lady on the right is the "long-handled sake-bearer" or "Nagae no choushi". The lady or the left is "the backup sake-bearer" or "Kuwae no choushi". And the lady in the middle is sake bearer or "Sanpou".

Between these court ladies people put "takatsuki" or stands with round table tops. Some sweets like for example "hishi mochi" are put on them. The hishi mochi is of rhomboid shape, which is believed to symbolize the fertility. It is made of several layers (each one of different colour) of "mochi". The Mochi is a rice cake made of glutinous rice pounded into paste This sweets originate from the Edo period (1603-1868).

Go-nin bayashi
Go-nin bayashi

Male dolls again appear on the third level. These dolls are five male musicians or "go-nin bayashi". Looking from the left first 4 dolls have musical instruments in their hands - "Taiko" (holds small drum), "Ookawa" (holds large drum), "Kotsuzumi" (holds hand drum) and "Yokofue" (holds flute "Fue"). They are all standing. The fifth doll called "Utaika" is a singer. He sits and holds a fan ("sensu").

Our journey toward the bottom of platform continues. Fourth level has lot to do with politics. Two dolls representing ministers ("daijin") are put there. The minister of the Right ("Udaijin") is shown as young person. The second minisiter is the one of the Left ("Sadijin"). He is an old guy. The position of these two dolls on the level is opposite to their political status. Udaijin is put to viewer's left side and Sadijin is put to viewer's right side.

Between these two doll there are several objects – "kakebanzen" or "o-zen", diamond-shaped stands or "hishidai". Diamond-shaped rice cakes or "hishimochi" are placed on hishidai. Just below the ministers there are two trees – a mandarin orange tree ("Ukon no tachibana ") on right side and a cherry tree or "Sakon na sukura" on left side.

Fifth level is the one with soldiers. It includes three helpers or "samurai" who protect Emperor and Empress. From the viewers perspective – left to right – they are Maudlin drinker or "nakijougo", Cantankerous drinker or "okorijougo" and Merry drinker or "waraijougo".

We finally reached two final levels – sixth and seventh. On these levels Japanese people put all kind of tiny furniture, tools, vehicles etc.

Objects in the sixth level are
1) chest or "tansu"
2) long chest or "nagamochi" which is used for storing kimonos
3) small storage box or "hasamibako"
4) small chest with mirror on the top or "kyoudai"
5) sewing kit box or "haribako"
6) brazier or "hibachi"
7) utensils used in tea ceremony or "daisu"

And at the end, here are the objects in the last, seventh level. They are
1) set of nested lacquered food boxes or "juubako"
2) palanquin or "gokago"
3) ox-drawn carriage favoured by Heian nobility or "goshogurama"
4) ox-drawn cart of flowers or "hanagurama".