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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogGirl’s Day in Japan: What Makes Hinamatsuri Special?

Girl’s Day in Japan: What Makes Hinamatsuri Special?

Anna AyvazyanAnna Ayvazyan
Published Time
Posted on 
December 19, 2023
Two Japanese dolls on Girl's Day.

In Japan, Girl’s Day is known as Hinamatsuri, or Doll’s Day. It is a traditional festival on March 3rd to pray for the health and happiness of young girls. Let’s take a closer look at the history of this holiday and how people celebrate it!

When was the first Hinamatsuri?

In the Heian era (794 to 1185), it was common for Japanese noble-class girls to play with dolls. During this period, people crafted thin slices of wood or paper into shapes resembling humans, like dolls. Initially, they would stroke the doll’s body parts where they felt unwell and then set the doll adrift, believing it would purify them or relieve affected areas. Over time, these dolls gained significance in the imperial court.

A mother gifting her child with a hinamatsuri doll.
Families gather to pray for their daughters’ good health. Image via Shutterstock

Customs developed, like keeping dolls for newborns and setting them adrift when the babies turned three years old. The materials evolved from wood to cloth, allowing for more extravagant designs. The belief was that the more extravagant the doll, the more powerful it was in driving away evil spirits.

People also called Joshi no Sekku, on March 3rd, Momo-no Sekku, with “momo” meaning peach. Historically, peaches were associated with warding off bad spirits, as peach trees usually start flowering at the end of February. People set up Hina-ningyou (doll) altars dedicated to celebrating the festival around this time and prayed for good luck for their daughters.

Why do they have a doll altar on Girl’s Day?

A multi-tiered doll altar.
The dolls are inspired by a Heian era court. Image via Shutterstock

The custom of setting up an altar for Hina Maturi started in the Edo period (1603-1867). By this period, dolls became associated with celebrating the health and development of young girls. Influenced by characteristics of a popular doll activity with noble girls called hina-asobi (doll play), altars started to emerge. These altars would feature dolls dressed in traditional court attire from the Heian period. 

What does each doll represent on Girl’s Day?

They would also represent the individuals in the royal court, such as the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians. The altar is usually arranged in five to seven tiers with a red cloth. The emperor and empress are placed on the top tier. Below them on the second tier are three court ladies. On the third tier are court musicians, and on the fourth tier are court ministers or bodyguards. The fifth to seventh tiers typically feature palace guards and household items.

An emperor and empress doll on Girl's Day.
Would you ever celebrate Hinamatsuri? Image via Shutterstock

Some families would only display the first tier, while others would display all the tiers, depending on how many dolls they have. Nowadays, it is common for families to have around fifteen dolls to display on their altar. It is customary to set up the altar around the 19th of February and then put them away on the 3rd of March. Putting the dolls away is akin to the historical practice of letting dolls drift in the river to ward off evil spirits. 

Complete doll altar sets can be very pricey in Japan; paying 300,000 yen for a five-tier set is pretty standard. However, cheaper and smaller versions are available in many stores, which you can take back as a souvenir. In addition to doll altars, you can eat different, colorful types of food to celebrate hinamatsuri!

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What do people eat during Girl’s Day?

Hina Arare

A bowl of hina arare.
This arare has spring colors! Image via Shutterstock

Hina Arare is sugary colored rice puffs or rice crackers, usually only available in shops during spring. These rice puffs are typically white, pink, green, and yellow. White represents the earth during winter, and pink and red represent life. The green and yellow colors represent the coming of spring. This treat celebrates the coming of spring. 

Chirashizushi

A bowl of chirashizushi.
Chirashizushi is a mixed rice dish! Image via Shutterstock

Chirashizushi is a sushi popular in Japan, especially during the Hinamatsuri festival. People make chirashizushi by spreading lotus roots, shrimp, and thinly shredded eggs on vinegared rice. They believe the lotus root is linked to foresight, and the shrimp is associated with longevity. People usually eat it with amazake, a non-alcoholic rice drink.

Hishi Mochi

Hishi Mochi is a rice cake in three layers, and it’s shaped like a rhombus! The mochi’s colors from top to bottom are green, white, and pink. The green layer symbolizes the coming spring or the roots of plants below the snow.

Hishi mochi, a triple layered rice cake people eat on Girl's Day.
This mochi is shaped like a diamond! Image via Shutterstock

The white layer represents the snow and energy of the earth. The pink layer represents peach blossoms or the energy of life. It is said that by eating Hishi Mochi, girls absorb the forces of nature to grow up in good health.

Why is Girl’s Day popular in Japan?

A food spread for Hinamatsuri. It consists of mochi, chirashizushi and clam soup.
There’s amazing food you can enjoy in Hinamatsuri. Image via Shutterstock

Hinamatsuri is a wonderful day to celebrate the girls you know, regardless if they’re friends or family. If you have dolls at home, you can try to make your version of the doll altar! If you don’t have any dolls, you can celebrate by finding similar festival-related food at your supermarket. It can also be a fun idea to have a hinamatsuri picnic with friends under some peach blossom trees.  What festival food do you want to try the most? Let us know in the comments! 

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