Hinamatsuri, also called Doll's Day or Girls' Day, is a special holiday celebrated each year on March 3rd in Japan.
The intention of the day is to pray for the growth and happiness of young girls in the country. It is also known as "Momo no sekku (Peach Festival)" due to the peach blossom season on the old lunar calendar occurring at the same time.
Most families with girls display "hina-ningyo" (special doll dioramas for Hinamatsuri) and dedicate peach blossoms to them. The dioramas are usually arranged on a five or seven-tiered stand covered with a red carpet. At the top are the Emperor and Empress. The next step contains three court ladies (sannin-kanjo), followed by five musicians (gonin-bayashi), two ministers (udaijin and sadaijin), and three servants ending the bottom row in a five-tiered display. There are also small pieces of furniture, small meal dishes, and other things that are arranged around the dolls on each tier.
The custom of displaying dolls as part of the holiday began during the Heian period, where the people believed that the dolls possessed the power to contain bad spirits. In an ancient Japanese custom called hina-nagashi ("doll floating"), the straw dolls were set afloat on a boat and sent down a river to the sea, taking troubles or bad spirits with them.
As the festival has grown over the years the dolls have become more elaborate and more expensive. One can guess that people no longer want to set these little treasures to drift on a river. The trend now is to display the dolls on the house and save them for the following years' festivals.
Families generally start to display the dolls in February and take them down immediately after the festival. Superstition says that leaving the dolls past March 4 will result in a late marriage for the daughter.
- First platform, the top
The top tier holds two dolls, known as imperial dolls (内裏雛 (だいりびな) dairi-bina). These are the Emperor (御内裏様 Odairi-sama) holding a ritual baton (笏 shaku) and Empress (御雛様 Ohime-sama) holding a fan.
The dolls are usually placed in front of a gold folding screen byōbu (屏風) and placed beside green Japanese garden trees.
Optional are the two lampstands, called bonbori (雪洞), and the paper or silk lanterns that are known as hibukuro (火袋), which are usually decorated with cherry or ume blossom patterns.
- Second platform
The second tier holds three court ladies called san-nin kanjo (三人官女). Each holds sake equipment. From the viewer's perspective, the standing lady on the right is the long-handled sake-bearer Nagae no chōshi (長柄の銚子), the standing lady on the left is the backup sake-bearer Kuwae no chōshi (加えの銚子), and the only lady in the middle is the seated sake bearer Sanpō (三方).
Accessories placed between the ladies are takatsuki (高坏), stands with round table-tops for seasonal sweets, excluding hishimochi.
- Third platform
The third tier holds five male musicians gonin bayashi (五人囃子). Each holds a musical instrument except the singer, who holds a fan.
Left to right, from viewer's perspective, they are the:
- Small drum Taiko (太鼓), seated,
- Large drum Ōtsuzumi (大鼓), standing,
- Hand drum Kotsuzumi (小鼓), standing,
- Flute Fue (笛), or Yokobue (横笛), seated,
- Singer Utaikata (謡い方), holding a folding fan sensu (扇子), standing.
- Fourth platform
Two ministers (daijin) may be displayed on the fourth tier: the Minister of the Right (右大臣 Udaijin) and the Minister of the Left (左大臣 Sadaijin). The Minister of the Right is depicted as a young person, while the Minister of the Left is much older.
Between the two figures are covered bowl tables called kakebanzen (掛盤膳) as well as diamond-shaped stands called hishidai (菱台) bearing diamond-shaped ricecakes called hishimochi (菱餅). Hishidai with feline-shaped legs are known as nekoashigata hishidai (猫足形菱台?).
Just below the ministers: on the rightmost, a mandarin orange tree called Ukon no tachibana (右近の橘), and on the leftmost, a cherry blossom tree called Sakon no sakura (左近の桜).
- Fifth platform
The fifth tier, between the plants, holds three helpers or samurai as the protectors of the Emperor and Empress. From left to right (viewer's perspective):
- Maudlin drinker nakijōgo (泣き上戸)
- Cantankerous drinker okorijōgo (怒り上戸)
- Merry drinker waraijōgo (笑い上戸)
- Sixth platform
These are items used within the palatial residence.
- tansu (箪笥) : chest of (usually five) drawers, sometimes with swinging outer covering doors.
- nagamochi (長持) : long chest for kimono storage.
- hasamibako (挟箱) : small clothing storage box, placed on top of nagamochi.
- kyōdai (鏡台) : a small chest of drawers with a mirror on top.
- haribako (針箱) : sewing kit box.
- two hibachi (火鉢) : braziers.
- daisu (台子) : utensils for the tea ceremony.
- Seventh platform, the bottom
These are items used when away from the palatial residence.
- jubako (重箱), a set of nested lacquered food boxes with either a cord tied vertically around the boxes or a stiff handle that locks them together.
- gokago (御駕籠 or 御駕篭), a palanquin.
- goshoguruma (御所車), an ox-drawn carriage favored by Heian nobility. This last is sometimes known as gisha or gyuusha (牛車).
- Less common, hanaguruma (花車), an ox drawing a cart of flowers.
- The Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto celebrates the event by floating these dolls between the Takano and Kamo Rivers to pray for the safety of children. People have stopped doing this in modern time due to the dolls getting caught in fishermen nets. Officials now send the dolls out to sea, and when the spectators are gone officials take the dolls out of the water and bring them back to the temple to burn.
- The customary drink for the festival is shirozake, a sake made from fermented rice. A colored hina-arare; bite-sized crackers flavored with sugar or soy sauce depending on the region, and hishimochi; a diamond-shaped colored rice cake, are also served.
- A salt-based soup called ushiojiru; containing clams still in the shell, is also served. Clam shells in food are deemed the symbol of a united and peaceful couple, because a pair of clam shells fit together perfectly, and no pair but the original pair can do so.