Dolls, dolls, dolls everywhere! From small and plain to very fancy, I kept seeing them everywhere. So I investigated: starting in February and up to March 3, families and businesses display their often handed-down-through-generations dolls in honor of “Hina Matsuri Festival” on March 3, also called the “Doll’s Festival” or “Girls’ Day”. The tradition goes back over 1000 years and the dolls back then were believed to drive out bad spirits. In those early times, special Hina straw dolls were set out to sea, taking the bad spirits with them. In the Edo Period (17th century), Hina Matsuri evolved into a festival honoring girls’ health and happiness. Coincidentally, this was a period of peace after a long period of war between individual states. So maybe it was also a festival wishing for healthy young women bearing lots of babies?
Nowadays, you find elaborate settings with the imperial couple and as many attendants of the court as possible. These are set upon multi-tiered, red-carpet covered stands (maybe this is the origin of the red-carpet for celebrities, ubiquitious at important events today?). The Emperor and Empress, in full regalia, are always on the top tier, with the rest of the court arranged in as many as five to seven lower tiers. As with so many things Japanese, the level of intricate detailing and elaborate dress and décor is astonishing.
Of course, there are also traditional dishes marking this festival, including pastel-colored sweet rice crackers (Hina Arare), a special, sweet and non-alcoholic sake so children can also drink it (Shirozake), and a special sushi dish (Chirashizushi = scattered sushi), known for its colorful ingredients over a bowl of sushi rice. All in all a very merry celebration!