Marie Ebersolt

3rd March, 2023

The hinamatsuri, literally a doll festival, is held every year on March 3. It celebrates the good health of girls as the warmth of spring dawns. Before the Japanese adopted the Gregorian calendar, the date coincided with the blossoming of the peach tree around April. The peach tree is still the symbol of this festival and is used in the decorations, which are often lavish and extremely detailed. Little girls prepare for this festivity by setting up dolls, sometimes handed down from generation to generation.

This celebration is part of the "five seasonal festivals", the go-sekku, and corresponds to each change of season. The imperial court of the Heian era (794-1185) organised banquets with specific dishes. The appearance of dolls came later, in the 17th century, thanks to Princess Oki-ko's ladies-in-waiting, who gave her figurines and accessories to play with. Thus, when Okiko came to the throne, the momo-no sekku (fishing festival) officially became hinamatsuri (doll festival). Since then, doll makers have been making elaborate effigies of empresses, emperors, court members and everyday objects. According to a statistical survey by the Japanese Ministry of Economy and Industry, there are now more than eighty manufacturers with a turnover of 50 million euros. These figures show the current success.

The dolls are arranged on a staircase of up to seven levels. The steps are covered with a red felt carpet on which the dolls and many accessories are placed. At the top are the emperor and empress, then from top to bottom, three court ladies, five musicians, two ministers on either side of a bowl and tricoloured mochi, three servants between two trees, and finally, objects and furniture from the imperial daily life adorn the last two rows. Not all families put on all of these elements. Depending on the means, the scale differs. However, they always make sure that the couple is present. Some little girls make the figures themselves with origami, thus providing a moment of conviviality and a creative and educational activity.

Dolls have long been artefacts, substituting for the little girl to ward off bad luck and evil spirits. In times of high infant mortality, an anthropomorphic amulet was placed under the child's pillow and then thrown into the river or burned at the shrine to ward off the evil spirit it had attracted. This tradition has not lasted, but superstition dictates that the dolls should be put away the next day, otherwise the young girl will marry late. For a long time, mothers gave their dolls to their daughters as part of their wedding trousseau. However, this practice is becoming less common, mainly because of the wear and tear of the dolls, but also because of the appeal of new dolls. Manufacturers offer a plethora of products in a variety of styles.

Drinks and food accompany this rite of passage. The amazake, a rice drink with little or no alcohol, the hina-arare, sweet rice biscuits, the chirashi, rice topped with slices of raw fish, as well as a shellfish soup symbolising the united partners of a couple.

Marie Ebersolt