Monday, March 10, 2008

Hina Matsuri (Dolls Festival)

The Japanese have a lot of holidays. I think ten months out of the year have holidays actually. This is great since I am guaranteed at least one three day weekend every month! The fact is that this amount of festivity shows the depth of culture and tradition here. These holidays are not counting your typical western holidays that are also celebrated here (to a certain extent) such as Christmas, Halloween, and Valentines Day. The last being celebrated backasswards with the women giving the men chocolates. And I mean all the men! They even have to give their male bosses chocolates! But don't worry ladies this is countered with White Day held in March where the men return the giving with candy and such.

à la the title this post isn't about White Day but the Hina Matsuri. Hina can be directly translated to Doll with Matsuri meaning Festival. The event is traced back to the Heian Period (794-1185 CE) and is celebrated on the third day of the third month of the year. Traditionally the dolls were believed to hold bad spirits and at the end of the festival they would be placed on small boats made of grass and floated down a stream. This traditional practice known as hina-nagashi doesn't seem to be as popular lately possibly due to the sheer number of dolls that would be floating down every stream and canal in Japan.

Nowadays, the dolls are placed upon a typically seven-tiered stand with the Emperor and Empress at the top. Here is a picture I took of one at a kindergarten where I was invited to celebrate the festival.


There seems to be many different traditional foods eaten during the festival. The kindergarten served macha with sweet candies. The principal at the school told me that you first eat the sweet candies then drink the macha (a very bitter green tea). The two juxtaposing tastes make for a very good blend. In other parts of Japan where I have celebrated this festival I was served amazake (a very thick low-alcohol version of sake) and small soy-sauce flavored crackers called arare. This combination gave the same sort of blend of flavors just with the food being bitter and the drink being sweet.

Here are some more pictures at the kindergarten.

The kids liked to show me their green tongues after drinking the macha.

I have heard that the Hina Matsuri is traditionally known as Girls' Day with Kodomo no hi, which is celebrated in May, typically celebrated as Boys' Day. When May comes around I will try to snap some pictures of the carp shaped flags that pop up everywhere and give a little explanation of the origins of the holiday. (I have heard that there is some dispute about why Boys' Day is considered a National Holiday, i.e. they get a day off, while Girls' Day isn't. Meh, whatcha gonna do, it's Japan!)

1 comment:

smatt said...

What's up with all the cultural crap? This site isn't called SHAMALAMALAND for nothing! Give us more pictures of the Shamalama-nator! -smatt