On Tuesday a group of Mums and toddlers were taken to Asakusabashi earlier by WaNavi and introduced to the Hinamatsuri Festival and shown around three of the biggest doll shops there. Asakusabashi is known as the “Town of Dolls” as the main street leads straight up to the famous Sensoji Temple and a lot of the stores there sell the dolls.
We reached the area along the Toei Asakusa Line and came out at exit A3 of Asakusabashi station where we met our guide. The shops are on either side of the road within 300m of the station.
Hinamatsuri or Girls Day is the festival of the hina (meaning ‘small and lovely’) dolls and is celebrated on 3 March.
It is a festival where a family give good wishes for the health and happiness of the girls in their lives.
The original idea was introduced from China before the 8th century, where paper dolls symbolising the children were set afloat on a river to carry away evil spirits. Nobles merged the ritual with young girls doll play called ‘Play of Hiina’ and so the hina dolls replaced the paper dolls. The custom of displaying the dolls grew in the Edo era although some parts of Japan such as the Tottori prefecture still set paper dolls afloat straw boats.
According to the lunar calendar, the peach trees are in full bloom on 3 March and it is for this reason that it is also known as the ‘Peach Festival’ or Momo-no-Sekku. The peach trees are supposed to drive out bad luck and so all the displays have examples of peach trees on them. As a keen gardener, I was fascintaed with the detail that went into these peach blossom branches as it was only when I got close up could I see that they were made of fabric.
When a girl is born into a family, the maternal grandparents will buy a set of hina dolls for her which are her own. The dolls are seen as good luck charms and take on accidents and sickness for the girls. As a result there is no sharing of the dolls, passing on, vintage or selling of second-hand dolls.
The dolls are put on display between the Setsuban festival (3rd February) and the middle of February. Food such as Chirashi-zushi (sushi mixed with vegetables over rice), Hamaguri soup (clam soup) and Hishimochi (diamond shaped rice cake) are enjoyed by families and friends during this festival, wishing the girl’s happiness and bright future. As with much of Japanese food, the shapes and colors all have meaning to them. Food is also represented on the Hina display (hishimochi) and holds symbolic significance. It is represented, in the tradition of the court, by the three court ladies serving tea.
There are four types of dolls:
These are made from tightly bound straw and each layer of the kimono is tailored and put onto the doll. The face is lean and grown up looking and are the most common type.
The body is made of pressed Paulownia-wood powder with slits where each pice of kimono fabric is inserted. The faces are rounder- more child like- and they have a softer expression.
Tachi means to stand and these standing dolls are only of the emperor and empress. These are the original type of hina dolls and have their origins in the floating paper dolls.
A hanging display of small fabric decorations that mothers and grandmothers make for their daughters. The decorations represent the items that the girls will need or enjoy in life.
There are three main types of displays:
The tiered display can have 7, 5 or 3 tiers with up to 10 or 15 dolls. Each tier has a particular set of dolls or accessories that go on it. The tiered displays need a large space for displaying and storage.
This is a display of only the Emperor and Empress. It is easier to display and store as it is flatter and more compact and some sets display platform also double as the storage box.
These sets are in an acrylic case. They are the easiest to set up, store and maintain.. There is no worry about the dolls getting dusty.
The dolls are put away on after the 3rd March, but very soon afterwards as it is believed that if the dolls are left out after the 4 March, the girl that they are representing will not get married when she is older. Nothing like adding to the mother’s guilt!
Dolls that are no longer wanted are taken to a shrine or temple for a memorial service, where the priests will bless the dolls or chant a sutra and then the dolls are incinerated together. Meiji Jingu Shrine holds its memorial service in October.
It was a very interesting trip and great to get the information behind the festival and see the dolls. Thankfully the toddlers all behaved themselves, generally listening to J telling them in a very stern voice saying “Dont Touch. As the prices for the dolls started at about Y32,000, we mums were in complete agreement with him!