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 at the Hina Matsuri, the drink served is white sake. The children are given amazake ("sweet sake"), which is virtually non-alcoholic, while the adults usually drink shirosake ("white sake"), which has an alcohol content of about 10%. The foodstuffs served are sushi. 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). 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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