Sunday 4 March 2018

The Hinamatsuri Doll's Festival and Changing Tradition

For a country whose people have the reputation of being hard-workers, Japan has an awful lot of national holidays: currently 16, which is one of the highest in the world. England and Wales, by contrast has only 7 bank holidays as they are called in the UK. However, of these 16 holidays, only one, Boy's Day on May 5th (though it is officially called Children's Day), coincides with one of the five traditional seasonal festivals (go-sekku =五節句) that used to be celebrated at the Japanese imperial court. The others - Nanakusa no Sekku (January 7th), Girl's Day (March 3rd), Tanabata (July 7th), and Chrysanthemum Day or Kiku no Sekku (September 9th) are still celebrated but are not official holidays.
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Yesterday (March 3rd) was Hinamatsuri (雛祭), variously called Girl's Day, Doll's Day, or Peach Day in English: the kanji "hina", meaning a chick or infant, is not common and "hina" is usually written in hiragana. Around this time, in public places, such as hotels and department stores, one can often see elaborate displays of ornamental dolls arranged on multiple tiers on top of a red cloth. In the past, such displays were also brought out every year in families with young girls though with the increasing mobility of nuclear families together with the price - the full set pictured here is a snip at ¥580,000 or £4,000! - this is becoming rather rare. Often, only the seated emperor (obina =男雛) and empress (mebina= 女雛) dolls are displayed, though even this is becoming less and less common. For those families that do put them out, superstition says they must be cleared away the day after, or else their daughters will marry late if at all. Many of the original superstitions centering on purification - rubbing the dolls was said to transfer evil spirits or sickness - have been forgotten entirely.

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Like many other holidays and festivals, in recent years Girl's Day has become more and more commercialised and supermarkets put on elaborate displays of snacks - such as special rice-crackers (hina-arare) - and sashimi (raw fish). My local supermarket even put on a tuna-cutting performance (kaitai-shō =解体ショー) on the actual day! Chirashi-zushi - raw fish and vegetables sprinkled or "scattered" (chirasu =散らす) on top of a bowl of sushi rice - has always been a traditional food around Girl's Day but it has never been promoted as heavily as it is now. Like many families, we didn't display any dolls, but did go for the sushi - though we opted for temaki (hand-rolled) sushi rather than chirashi-zushi. So much for tradition...