Although it doesn’t warrant a national holiday, Hina Matsuri or 雛祭り is one in a long line of traditional celebrations in Japan. Falling on March third, 3/3 is reserved for the young females in a family, whilst Children’s Day or 子供の日 (May fifth 5/5) was once reserved for young boys, but in 1948, Children’s Day was decreed a national holiday and is a day of thanks for mothers and a celebration for children’s health.
Hina Matsuri is still an ancient celebration and there are some stern traditions that many households still abide to. Any family with a daughter, will more than likely erect a stand with several platforms, on top of which are ornate dolls representing an Emperor and Empress, below them are their attendants, musicians and various members of a Heian Period court.
Originally, the dolls were thought to have the power to absorb ill luck and bad spirits. These dolls were then sent down stream and into the sea, taking with them the unwanted luggage of their former owners. The ancient and beautiful Shimogamo Shrine (下鴨神社) still upholds this tradition, but as many of the dolls were caught by luckless fisherman, members of the shrine go out to sea after the dolls, retrieve them and burn them back at the shrine. Most households however use the same display every year, and the dolls are tended for and kept pristine for the next year’s celebrations.
Not only are the dolls more commonly revered than burnt, many associate them with the power to grant good luck, rather than having them be a vessel for bad. Young girls nationwide make various decorations for the celebration, perhaps most notably an Emperor and Empress who are dressed traditionally. On these ornaments, many young girls write a simple wish, akin to the celebrations of Tanabata. The wishes range from their dream job or that night’s dinner, depending on what that child really wants.
Besides the beautiful dolls, there are also some traditional foods that are enjoyed on Hina Matsuri; most famous of which is a cloudy and thick sake known as shirozake (白酒), which can either be served with or without alcohol. Snacks such as mochi (pounded rice) and arare (soy flavored rice cakes) are adapted for the festival, with hishi-mochi (菱餅), a diamond shaped snack which is often colored red, white and green, and hina-arare (ひなあられ), which are also often dyed the same colors and look more like Lucky Charms than rice cakes.
The most substantial traditional foods however are Chirashizushi and clam-soup. Sushi is an extremely varied cuisine, but every type of sushi has one thing in common, shari, rice cooked and seasoned with vinegar. Unlike most other sushi methods, Chirashizushi is not served as a small, individual portion, but as a large bowl of rice that is topped with a variety of ingredients, including raw fish, pickled ginger, egg and countless others. Recipes vary depending on the region of Japan you find yourself in, but much like the hishi-mochi, the dominate colors are often red (or pink), white and green. The clam soup or ushiojiru, is also popular during the festivities, not because of its color, but because a boiled clam represents unity, and therefore a happy couple, the underlying message of Hina Matsuri.
Hina Matsuri has found its way into a variety of popular culture mediums. Children are often told a story of a normal young girl who discovers she is the Peach Blossom Princess and is fated to marry the Emperor. Perhaps more amazingly, Akira Kurosawa devoted an entire short film to Hina Matsuri’s floral symbol, the peach blossom, in his 1990 short film collection titled Dreams. In The Peach Orchard, an orchard of felled peach trees become the platform for real life Hina Dolls, at the top of which are an enraged Emperor and his wife. At the film’s climax, the dolls elegantly dance, as the peach trees sprout back to life and their petals flutter in the wind, a beautiful ending to a much loved celebration.