Today is the Hina Matsuri, or Doll Festival, in Japan: a springtime festival for girls featuring the display of dolls dressed in traditional courtly attire, and held for the healthy growth and development of the daughter(s) in the family.
Although a girl’s festival, the Hina Matsuri features dolls of both sexes, the Obina (Emperor doll) and Mebina (Empress doll) – the “bina” in each being the same kanji as for “hina.”
The original meaning of hina is “chick” (as in baby hen or rooster), indicating the idea of immaturity.
The centerpiece of the Hina Matsuri celebrations is a set of tiered shelves on which rows of dolls sit regally. The number of dolls depends largely on the wealth of the family, and the way they are arrayed depends on which tradition the family chooses to follow, there being several variations. Other decorative details also vary, often according to region.
The flower of decoration is the plum blossom, which is just emerging around Japan at this time as the first hint of spring.
Food and drink are integral to any Japanese festival, and the Hina Matsuri sees white sake (perhaps just a sip for the daughter – and lots more for the adults) and sushi being served. Hishi mochi, which is a special pink and white rice cake, and hina arare, which is a rice-and-bean snack in the form of lozenges color white for snow (purity), green for foliage (vigor), and pink for long life (health) are also integral foodstuffs. Hina arare are traditionally sweet in eastern Japan and salty in western Japan. Like the sake and sushi, a little of them is placed in front of the dolls.
Nagashibina is a Hina Matsuri tradition whereby paper dolls are floated downstream, in a similar fashion to the poetry writing Kyokusui no Utage tradition.
The Hina Matsuri in Tokyo means booming business for the Asakusabashi district, famous for the traditional doll shops and emporiums that line Edo Avenue near Asakusabashi Station (not to be confused with Asakusa, two stations north on the Toei Asakusa subway line).
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