Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hinamatsuri-- the Doll Festival

Mikado Dolls (Mikado = Imperial)

The custom of the Doll Festival-- Hinamatsuri--dates back to Heian Japan, when originally people used to float straw dolls (Hina)  down river to the sea, thus carrying away bad spirits--somewhat in the manner of the biblical scapegoat, though rather less costly.  Celebrated on March 3rd as the plum blossoms are just beginning to fade and the peach blossoms are almost ready to pop, modern custom involves putting out Hina Dolls for daughters a week or so before the third and displaying them until the third.  My mommy friends tell me that it's important to take the whole set down by the 4th--superstition has it that if you leave your daughter's Hina set up too long, she'll be an old maid;-))

click to enlarge all photos
Of course there are special foods and snacks associated with the Doll Festival, but I'll leave those to tomorrow's and Thursday's posts.  For today, I'd like to tell you about the gorgeous Hina Dolls... a set of which we don't own because of the expense and the storage (small apartment...*sigh*).  Really nice sets, as Chris mentioned in his comment yesterday, go for thousands of dollars (several juu man yen), and typically the sets are handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter, adding a bit each generation.  Most people have the Emporer and Empress--the top tier, as in the photo above.  They sit before a gold screen (byobu) in their many-layered Heian era silk robes...

O-Dairi-Sama (the Emporer) holding his shaku (ritual baton)...

a close-up view...

...and O-Hina-Sama (the Empress) holding her fan.  "Dairi" means imperial palace, "Hina" is girl or princess. 

incredible fine details
the seven-tiered set at the Children's Hospital

Few people have the entire seven-tier set.  If you ask someone, they'll tell you the have an "ichi-dan" (one tier) set, or a "ni-dan" or maybe a "san-dan" set (two, or even three).  At least, of the big dolls like those above.  If someone says they have a "nana-dan" (seven tier) set, they've either inherited all of it from O-Baasan, or they have a set with very small pieces inexpensively made.  I was floored by the big set up at the Prefectural Children's Hospital we go to for Teddy's eyes (strabismus)--no ropes around it or anything, so I had a good up close look at it!  I took some video of  it, too, since it was hard to take good photos of the whole set.  Go ahead and watch and enjoy, then below I'll explain what's on all the other tiers...

Aren't they detailed and lovely and fine?  If I were a better video editor, I'd have put the HinaMatsuri Uta (song) with the video.  Because of my lack of skills, please enjoy listening to the Hinamatsuri Song in a separate video:-))

The words go something like this:
Let's light the laterns on the tiered stand
Let's put peach blossoms on the tiered stand
Five court musicians are playing flutes and drums
Today is a happy Dolls Festival

Sannin Kanjou no Sanpou...the seated sake bearer
Starting from the second tier are all the court retainers.  On the second level itself are the Sanin Kanjou--the three court ladies holding sake equipment.  From right to left (viewer's) they are the Nagae no choushi (the long-handled sake bearer), the Sanpou (the seated sake bearer, flanked by takatsuki stands holding sweets other than mochi), and on the left the Kuwae no choushi (the backup sake bearer).

Kotsuzumi and Yokobue of the court musicians
The third tier (which is as far down as most people own) is the Gonin bayashi--the court musicians.  From left to right (viewer's) they are:
1) Taiko--small drum
2) Ootsuzumi--large drum
3) Kotsuzumi-- hand drum
4) Yokobue-- flute (seated)
5) Utaikata--the singer seated and holding a folding sensu fan.

The Sadaijin--Minister of the Left....who is on your right
The fourth tier holds the Ministers of the Right and Left--the Udaijin and Sadaijin, though their names refer to their positions relative to each other.  In the photo above is the Sadaijin, always depicted as an old man seated next to the Kakebanzen (the covered bowls table).  He's to your right, though he called the Minister of the Left...
Udaijin--the Minister of the Right...who is on your left;-))

...and the Udaijin--the Minister of the Right (who is on the viewer's left), depicted as a young man. He sits beside the diamond-shaped hishidai holding the diamond-shaped glutinous rice cakes called Hisamochi ( colorful here, but usually in the three colors of spring--pink, green and white). Both figures usually hold bows and arrows.

For some reason, I forgot to take a photo of the figures in the fifth tier--the samurai helpers as protectors to the Emperor and Empress.  Look closely at their faces in the video--can you identify which is the Nakijougo (the Maudlin Drinker), which the Okorijougo (the Cantankerous Drinker), and which is the Waraijougo (the Merry Drinker)?  Gambare! (do your best!)

Only the Empress possess a mirror...

The sixth tier holds things used within the Imperial Palace.  These are the Emperor and Empresses things, so they are (of course) beautifully lacquered and painted with gold, tied with silken fringed cords.  Commoners were lucky to have a chest of drawers (if that), and nobody owned a mirror except royalty and the ultra-wealthy.  From left to right (viewer's) are:
1) the tansu-- a chest of drawers (usually five), sometimes with outer doors;
2) the Nagamochi--a long chest used for storing kimono, and placed on top of it the Hasamibako (a smaller clothes storage box).  To the far left in the photo above.
3) Kyoudai-- mirror stand (I was really intrigued by this)
4) two hibachi-- braziers used for heating (far right in photo above)
5) Haribako-- the sewing kit box (for fixing up all those voluminous robes;-)), and...

see the tiny bamboo whisk?

...6) the Daisu with all the Ocha Dougu (tea utensils) used for the Tea Ceremony.

Gyuusha--the ox-cart favored by Heian nobility
The seventh, and final, tier hold things used outside the Palace--things for traveling, such as the Gokago, the palanquin (hand-carried litter) used to carry the royalty around.  In the middle are the  Juubako, the set of nested boxes for food tied vertically with a silken cord wonderously made.  On the right is the Goshouguruma, the ox-cart (pictured above).  The trees on the bottom are (on the left corner) a mandarin orange tree, Ukontachibana, and (on the right) a cherry tree called the Sakon no sakura (right-corner cherry).  I could stare for hours at a beautiful set of Hina dolls--aren't they intritcate, delicate, and fine?

If you've another minute, I found this darling video by Sakai Houichi (who does beautiful watercolors) showing how to draw or paint the Mikado (Hina) Dolls.  Watch how he paints the circles for the faces--clockwise in one smooth zen-like movement starting at the bottom of the circle.  Cool.  I also liked the little paper kitty-puppets he uses to point to things during the video:-))  Dozo, enjoy!

Chotto Hinamatsuri wakattekita ka naa...?  Do you understand the Doll Festival a little better now?  Stay tuned!  Coming up tomorrow:  SpyShopper--Hinamatsuri Treats;  and on Thursday:  Recipe--Chirashizushi for Hinamatsuri.

Mata ashita, ne!


  1. omg this is SO AWESOME! I want a whole 7 tier set! That would be so SWEET! (your pictures have brought out my covetous nature...)

  2. It must be such joy for your to take part in traditions such as these -- as you have a fresh, observant set of eyes. It's nowhere near mundane; what is it they say? -- That the newborn speaker of a language holds the greatest joy in its contents? (I am paraphrasing Nietzsche rather liberally here!)

  3. An extremely detailed and informative posting! I'm sorry to hear that your family does not have its own set, though that's completely understandable given your current location, and the absurd cost of something that functions as a display item seen for only a few weeks a year. Nevertheless, thanks for the wonderful photos and explanations!

  4. Sarah--I want a whole set, too....only we wouldn't have anywhere to, you know, sleep or eat if we had one. *sigh* So I content myself with drooling over the ones I see set up in stores (they even have a one-level Emperor and Empress in a glass box in our grocery store set up by the Hinamatsuri snacks--accompanied by the song up there in the post on a continual loop...;-)

  5. Lostinsophistication-- I think it's tons of fun to participate in Japan's ancient festivals! My husband says it's actually more fun for him now because he gets to see things he normally takes totally for granted with "new eyes", so to speak. And that's the most sensible thing I've ever heard from Herr Nietzsche! "Newborn speaker of a language"--*love*! (*mentally files away for future use*) That reminds me of one from Charlemagne: "To have another language is to possess a second soul."

  6. Chris--glad you enjoyed the post! I actually learned a lot writing it, since I had to goad myself out my usual laziness and look things up that I don't know. I *totally* wish we had a big set--actually just the Emperor & Empress dolls would do for me...

  7. Actually, if I could have just one level, I'd have the fourth tier (though, of course that's not actually, you know, *done*). The Minister of the Left and The Minister of the Right--I was smitten the moment I looked up those names! They sound like Lewis Carroll;-))