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Hina Matsuri, the Festival of Dolls

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March has just arrived, and the cherry blossoms of Japan are very quietly working up the confidence to bloom. Before the country thinks about whether to attend Hanami picnics however, there’s a festival just around the corner which the women and girls (and all doll lovers) of Japan will be preparing for this week.

Also known as Doll’s Day or Girl’s Day, Hina Matsuri is a tradition which has been celebrated for more than 400 years. On March 3rd family homes and public spaces will be the stage for displays of hina-ningyō, ornate dolls which are arranged together on red carpeted platforms to recreate a miniature scene from the Hien Court.

Each hina-ningyō is a work of art, furnished with a tiny regal outfit and a hand painted face. Displays are known as hinakazari, and some of the most impressive incorporate not just the emperor and empress, but also other nobles of the court, in addition to musicians, attendants, and specially made props. Sometimes these hinakazari can get really expensive and are passed down from generation to generation, but there’s no reason that displays can’t be as simple as pictures or origamis!

One of the other traditions followed during Hina Matsuri is Nagashi-bina, when smaller dolls made from materials like paper and straw are set adrift in small boats. This is said to carry away impurities, or sometimes to ensure health for the girl releasing the doll.

Gathering Forgotten Dolls

When girls reach 10 years old they normally put away the Hina Matsuri dolls for good. Many of those dolls end up disused, but Kasuisai zen temple in Shizoku is one location offering memorial services for the hina-ningyō who won’t be on show in family homes again. Before finally storing away these special dolls for the last time, the priests at the temple include them in one combined, enormous hinakazari display. This year 1,200 hina-ningyō have been lined up together on a 32 tired platform in the main hall, creating an amazing scene of shining red and white.

Celebrate Virtually

Something that might have slipped by in the last Nintendo Direct announcement recently is that Animal Crossing will also be taking part in the Hina Matsuri celebrations. It’s not quite as exciting as the upcoming Mario warp-pipes, but the game will be updating on March 3rd to include hinakazari display items as well as blossom lanterns to prepare for the March blossoms.

Court of Cacti

Why do Zoos in Japan always come up with the most bizarre ideas? Izu Shaboten Zoo has been getting into the spirit of Hina Matsuri, but in a very unique way. The dolls which would normally be arranged in the hinakazari have been replaced with the spiky inhabitants of the zoo’s cactus greenhouse. Just like the regular hina-ningyō these stand-ins for the Hien royal court are dressed in historically appropriate outfits and with tiny accessories. It’s honestly my favourite display so far, because I never thought a small, spiny cactus could look so regal.

Image source:

Kasuisai zen temple images: hompage

Cacti images: PR Times

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