Today is March 3… which means today is Hina Matsuri in Japan! Also known as Doll Festival or Girls’ Day, Hina Matsuri is a special day where people pray for the safety, health, and future happiness of all young girls.
When I think of Hina Matsuri and its depiction in anime, the first series that comes to mind is the final episode of Hyouka. The entire episode revolves around this festival, features a touching parade, and sports some really beautiful visuals! If you haven’t yet seen Hyouka, I highly recommend it… and not just so you can get a glimpse of Hina Matsuri!
One other time I’ve seen Hina Matsuri in anime is in episode 46 of Shirokuma Cafe. In typical fashion, it’s fun and full of silly antics, as our Panda crew stumbles through a series of traditional Hina Matsuri practices, including setting up a display of ornamental dolls, dressing in kimono, and eating special foods…
Doesn’t Panda look pretty in a kimono?
Hina Matsuri was legally established in 1687, though the festival has it’s origins in the Heian Period (794 – 1185). It is believed that it’s roots stem from the Shinto religion where the third day of the third month was a day of purification. During this early predecessor to today’s Hina Matsuri, a kata shiro (folded paper doll) would be cast away into water or burned by fire, thereby taking one’s sins away. Alternatively, another origin may have been from old agricultural festivals in which straw dolls were cast into a river.
Sometime in mid-February, households with young daughters will set up a display of ornamental dolls in their homes. These often elaborate dolls represent the Emperor and Empress, their attendants, and musicians, and are dressed in traditional court attire from the Heian Period (794 – 1185).
Generally arranged on a tiered platform covered in red felt or cloth, the size of the dolls and display varies, but is usually comprised of 5 or 7 layers, though a simple single layered display featuring a male and female doll is also common. Sometimes food is left as an offering to the dolls, and doll sets are often passed down from mother to daughter.
In some parts of Japan, a purification ritual called hina-nagashi (“the throwing away of dolls”) is performed, where dolls made of paper or straw are released or cast into rivers during or after Hina Matsuri, with the hope that the dolls will take a person’s place and bear any sickness, sins, or bad fortune away.
Okay. Here’s the important stuff: let’s talk food.
Hishi-mochi is a diamond-shaped tri-colored Japanese confectionary made of mochi. The layers are usually pink (symbolizing plum blossoms, which typically bloom in early March), white (representing the purity and cleansing effects of the remaining snow from winter), and green (flavored with mugwort and representing young grass). The diamond shape is also a symbol of longevity and fertility.
Chirashi-zushi (“scattered sushi”) consists of a variety of raw fish and an assortment of vegetables or garnishes arranged on a bed of seasoned sushi rice. The exact ingredients tends to vary from region to region.
Ushio jiru (clear clam soup) is traditionally paired chirashi-zushi, and is a salt-based soup that contains whole clams.
Sakura mochi is a typical springtime Japanese confectionary made of mochi filled with anko (sweet red bean paste) and wrapped in a pickled cherry blossom (sakura) leaf. It is traditionally eaten for Hina Matsuri and during o-hanami (flower viewing).
Strawberry daifuku is a Japanese confectionary where a whole strawberry is covered in anko (sweet red bean paste) and wrapped in mochi (glutinous rice cake).
Hina-arare are small, colorful rice crackers with a delicate texture that are flavored with sugar or soy sauce, depending on the region. Arare are available in Japan all year round, but the colored variety is only made in the months surrounding Hina Matsuri.