Monday, March 3, 2008

Hina Matsuri - doll festival

In Japan today is the Girls' day festival. It is not a national holiday, it is a day in which families with daughters display Hina Ningya dolls. Hina Ningya dolls are a pair of dolls that portray the emperor and empress. A display consists of either five or seven shelves covered in red cloth. A set usually has 15 dolls. The dolls represent the emperor and empress, three court ladies, five musicians, two ministers, and three guards. The dolls are dressed in ancient court costumes of the Heian Period. Often these dolls are very expensive/family heirlooms and passed down from generation to generation. There are at least two styles of displaying the dolls. Kyoto style has the empress on the left of the emperor and Edo (Tokyo) style which has the emperor on the left. The doll on the right is considered superior. Supposedly the Edo style began when a daughter of Edo became empress. Other items such as miniature furniture and dinnerware maybe displayed as well. The girls displaying the dolls generally wear kimono's and hand out a sweet white drink called Shirozake and Hishimochi diamond shaped rice cakes that are colored red, white, and green to friends and relatives. The red is for chasing evil spirits away, the white is for purity, and the green is for health. There is a superstition that if a girl leaves her dolls on display after this holiday will get married late.

The origin of the festival is said to be an ancient Chinese festival where people would take a straw doll and float it down the river. The doll is said to take all your sins and misfortune into it and away from you. The custom of floating paper dolls down river in the late afternoon still is in practice in some areas.

The day is also known as Momo no Sekku (Peach-Blossom Festival), because peach blossoms are at their best at this season and represent women's virtues.

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