Mar 032018

Today is Hinamatsuri (雛祭り Hina-matsuri), also called Doll’s Day or Girls’ Day, one of 5 special days in Japan. Platforms covered with a red carpet-material are used to display a set of ornamental dolls (雛人形 hina-ningyō) representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians in traditional court dress of the Heian period. Hinamatsuri is one of the five seasonal festivals (五節句 go-sekku) that are held on auspicious dates of the Chinese calendar: the first day of the first month, the third day of the third month, and so on. After the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, these were fixed on 1st January, 3rd March, 5th May, 7th July, and 9th September. The festival was traditionally known as the Peach Festival (桃の節句 Momo no Sekku), because peach trees typically began to flower around this time following the old Japanese luni-solar calendar. Although this is no longer true since the shift to Gregorian dates, the name remains and peaches are still symbolic of the festival.

The primary aspect of Hinamatsuri is the display of seated male and female dolls (the obina (男雛) and mebina (女雛), literally “male doll” and “female doll” respectively, which represent a Heian period wedding, but usually described as the Emperor and Empress of Japan), usually on red cloth. These may be as simple as pictures or folded paper, or intricately carved three-dimensional dolls. More elaborate displays will include a multi-tiered doll stand (雛壇 hinadan) of dolls that represent ladies of the court, musicians, and other attendants, with all sorts of accoutrements. The entire set of dolls and accessories is called the hinazakari (雛盛り). The number of tiers and dolls a family may have depends on their budget.

Families normally ensure that girls have a set of the two main dolls before her first Hinamatsuri. The dolls are usually fairly expensive ($1,500 to $2,500 for a five-tier set, depending on quality) and may be handed down from older generations as heirlooms. The hinazakari spends of most of the year in storage, and girls and their mothers begin setting up the display a few days before 3 March (boys normally do not participate, as 5 May, now Children’s Day was historically called “Boys’ Day”). Traditionally, the dolls were supposed to be put away by the day after Hinamatsuri, because leaving the dolls any longer would supposedlyresult in a late marriage for the daughter, but some families may leave them up for the entire month of March. In practical terms, the encouragement to put everything away quickly is to avoid the rainy season and humidity that typically follow Hinamatsuri. Historically, the dolls were used as toys, but in modern times they are intended for display only. The display of dolls usually discontinues when the girls reach 10 years old.

The actual placement order of the dolls from left to right varies according to family tradition and location, but the order of dolls per level is the same. The layer of covering is called dankake (段掛) or simply hi-mōsen (緋毛氈), a red carpet with rainbow stripes at the bottom.

The Kojiki contains a story where Izanagi, one of the mythical founders of Japan, purifies himself in the river after visiting Yomi, the land of the dead. This is the source of the Shinto purification rites known as o-harae (お祓). In its earliest form, this involved human, animal, property, or food sacrifice, and was punishment for crimes or sin. Archaeological evidence indicates this being done as early as the Kofun period, possibly imported from Shang dynasty China (similar river purification rituals existed in ancient Korea). During the Nara period, sacrifices were seen as barbaric, and the use of pottery, effigies, or monetary offerings became standard. Documentary evidence discovered in Kyoto links these changes to similar practices in Tang dynasty China.

The earliest record of displaying the dolls as part of the Peach Festival comes from 1625, for Emperor Go-Mizunoo’s daughter Oki-ko. Imperial court ladies set up equipment for her to engage in doll play (雛遊び hina asobi). After Oki-ko succeeded her father as the Empress Meishō, Hinamatsuri legally became the name of the holiday in 1687. Doll-makers began making elaborate dolls for the festival (some growing as tall as 3 feet (1 meter) high before laws were passed restricting their size) and over time, the hinazakari evolved to include fifteen dolls and their accessories. As dolls became more expensive, tiers were added to the hinadan so that the expensive ones could be placed out of the reach of young children.

During the Meiji period as Japan began to modernize and the emperor was restored to power, the celebration of Hinamatsuri declined in favor of new holidays that focused on the emperor’s supposed bond with the nation, but it was later revived. By focusing on marriage and families, it represented Japanese hopes and values, and as the dolls were said to represent the emperor and empress, it also fostered respect for the throne. The holiday then spread to other countries via the Japanese diaspora, although it remains confined to immigrant Japanese communities and their descendants.

During Hinamatsuri and the preceding days, girls hold parties with their friends. Typical foods include hina-arare (雛あられ) (rice crackers), chirashizushi (ちらし寿司) (raw fish and vegetables on rice in a bowl or bento box), hishi mochi (菱餅) (multicolored rice cakes), ichigo daifuku (いちご大福) (strawberries wrapped in adzuki bean paste), and ushiojiru (うしお汁) (clam soup, as clam shells represent a joined pair).The customary drink is shirozake (白酒) (lit. “white sake”), also called amazake (甘酒) (lit. “sweet sake”), a non-alcoholic sake.

Making chirashizushi at home is fairly easy provided you are reasonably skilled at making sushi rice. Here is a video for you:

Other recipes can be found here:

If you want to pursue the peach theme there is a Japanese recipe for peach gazpacho here: I prefer my gazpacho the old-fashioned Andalusian way, but this can make a change once in a while (once a year for me).

Peach Gazpacho    


6 soft peaches (about 2 ½ lb), peeled, pitted, and quartered
½ cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
1 small clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 tbsp champagne or golden balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
½ tsp coarse salt
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
red bell pepper slices and avocado slices, for garnish


In a food processor, combine the peaches, cucumber, garlic, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and ½ cup water and pulse until coarsely puréed. Thin with the remaining ¼ cup water if needed for a good consistency. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to chill thoroughly.

Just before serving, taste and adjust the seasoning with more vinegar, salt, and pepper if needed. Stir in the cilantro. Ladle into bowls, drizzle each serving with a little oil, and garnish with the bell pepper and avocado. Serve at once.

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