Girls Day, also known as Hinamatsuri (雛祭り) or the Doll Festival falls on the 3rd of March every year. In Japan this is an annual celebration used to wish girls a healthy and happy life. It is also an event which marks the changing of seasons; it signifies the beginning of Spring and peach blossoms starting to flower and so this festival usually involves peaches and peach blossom in the celebration.
To celebrate the festival, traditional ceramic dolls with intricate designs and bright colours are displayed. These dolls are known as hina-ningyo and they represent the Emperor, Empress, attendants and musicians in traditional court dress of the Heian period (794-1185). They may be displayed on an altar or a tiered platform, often with ornaments and peach blossom surrounding them. The emperor and empress are known as Odairi-sama and Ohina-sama respectively and are found at the top of the tiered platform with the most colourful and extravagant attire. These dolls can be passed down from generation to generation in families or a set of hina dolls may be given as a gift by the parents or grandparents of a newborn just before their first hinamatsuri.
(Photo from: https://web-japan.org/kidsweb/cool/13-02-18/002.html)
In the past, however, the dolls were thought to have the ability to capture and contain impurities and bad spirits. Families would make the hina-ningyo out of straw and paper and at the end of the day, after wishing away bad spirits, the dolls would be sailed down the river in boats, taking any misfortune and bad spirits away with them. This was known as hina nagashi (雛流し). In some regions of Japan this is still a tradition and the dolls may be made out of origami paper.
The food is also a key part of the celebration. Often the day will include sake (rice wine), mochi and flower blossom (usually peach blossom). For the main meal, families and friends come together to eat chirashizushi which is rice with an assortment of colourful toppings including fish, vegetables, prawns and egg. Tofu is also a staple in Japanese meals and may be present in inari sushi which is deep fried sushi rice filled with tofu. Tofu may also be in the soup served on the side. The traditional soup for Hinamatsuri is ushiojiru which is a dashi based broth with clams as the main ingredient. Hishimochi is one of the main desserts, it is a sweet, diamond shaped rice cake and comes in three layers in the colours pink, white and green. Each colour represents different aspects of spring — green represents growth and new shoots, white is snow which is usually disappearing around this time in some parts of Japan and pink is for the flower blossoms. Hina arare is another key celebratory food. It is a sweet or salty rice cracker in a ball shape and the same three colours, used to represent hailstones or snow flakes.
(Photo from: https://www.nippon.com/en/features/jg00117/)
Hinamatsuri is still widely celebrated today and although its meaning may have altered slightly from in the past, it is still a day used to empower and celebrate young girls. Aspects from the festival have also appeared in pop culture; there is a popular anime series called Hinamatsuri which was adapted from an original manga series and comic book. Some also believe that Princess Peach from the Mario franchise was inspired by the Hinamatsuri festival.
For more information on Hinamatsuri or to see some pictures of the celebration, see Bokksu’s website.