Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Festival)
Hinamatsuri (also known as Doll’s Festival) was held yesterday on March 3rd, a day to pray for young girl’s growth and happiness. Most families with girls display hina-ningyo (special dolls for Hinamatsuri) which are usually arranged on a five or seven-tiered stand covered with a red carpet. At the top are the Emperor and Empress. The next step contains three court ladies (sannin-kanjo), followed by five musicians (gonin-bayashi), two ministers (udaijin and sadaijin), and three servants ending the bottom row in a five-tiered display. There are also small pieces of furniture, small meal dishes, and other things. See the Wikipedia entry on Hinamatsuri for a more complete description.
The dolls wear beautiful ancient court costumes of the Heian period (794-1185). A traditional set of dolls can be very expensive. There are various grades for the sets, and some full sets cost more than a million yen. There is a superstition that if you don’t put away the hina-ningyo soon after March 3rd, the daughter will get married late.
And what is a Japanese festival without special food. Hishimochi are diamond-shaped rice cakes. They are colored red (or pink), white, and green. The red is for chasing evil spirits away, the white is for purity, and the green is for health. Also, Chirashi-zushi, sakura-mochi (bean paste-filled rice cakes with cherry leaves), hina-arare (rice cake cubes) and shirozake (sweet white sake) are also often served. The picture below was taken from Flickr:
The origin of Hinamatsuri is an ancient Chinese practice in which the sin of the body and misfortune are transferred to a doll, and then removed by abandoning the doll on a river. A custom called hina-okuri or nagashi-bina, in which people float paper dolls down rivers late on the afternoon of March 3rd, still exists in various areas. The picture below was taken from Flickr:
Note: Most of this write-up about Hinamatsuri was taken from About.com.