In Japan, girls get their special holiday on the 3rd of March of every year. The event, known as the Hina Matsuri, traces its origins back to an ancient Japanese event called the Hina-nagashi. It was believed at the time that dolls had the ability to capture and contain bad spirits. People would make straw dolls and then set them afloat on a river in a small boat thereby flushing away the “evil spirits” that could make their children sick.
In the Heian Period (794-1185) people began displaying dolls in their homes, and instead of the dolls being vessels to carry away evil spirits they became prayers for the health and prosperity of the families’ children, in particular their daughters. In order to invite the highest blessings possible the dolls are representative of the Emperor and Empress and the members and attendants of the Imperial Court. From the middle of February until the 3rd of March many families with daughters put out a tiered “hina-dan” platform, cover it with a red carpet, and display a set of hina dolls.
Traditional hina-dan have 5-7 levels, with the dolls representing the Emperor and Empress placed on the top level in front of a golden “byobu” folding screen. Three court ladies with sake and sake serving utensils are displayed on the second level, 5 male court musicians and their instruments occupy the third level, two court ministers and 4 tables on which diamond shaped hishimochi rice crackers are displayed on the 4th level, and three samurai helpers placed between an orange tree and a cherry tree are displayed on the 5th level. If present, the 6th level displays household goods that would be used within the Imperial residence and the 7th level displays goods that would be used by the Imperial family while traveling.
Displays of all sizes and extravagance exist, but a lot of modern Japanese households are not be able to accommodate or afford such displays. Many families and businesses opt to display a smaller hina-dan, often with just a single level displaying the most important Emperor and Empress dolls. Whatever the preference or ability of the display’s owners, people across Japan observe the strict tradition of putting their doll display away immediately after March 3rd. It is believed that leaving the display up past that date will lead to their daughters marrying late.
The city of Yamato Koriyama, one stop to the south of Nara on the JR Line, has a dedicated Hina Matsuri event put on by the city and the owners of the many historic merchant and samurai homes in the Joka-machi old castle district. The Kyu-Kawamoto-tei, a nearly century old 3-story merchant home in the middle of Joka-machi, hosts the largest and greatest number of Hina doll displays including several doll sets from the early 20th century, and a display so large that an entire staircase is needed to showcase the enormous number of dolls in its possession.
Yamato-Koriyama’s Hina Matsuri usually runs from the 20th of February through to the 6th of March every year, but this year due to Corona virus, the exhibitions have been largely cancelled. Fortunately, the Yamato Koriyama City Tourism Association has kindly loaned us a huge Hina Doll display for our guests to enjoy. instaed
The dolls will be on display with us until March 7th, so if you're in town, drop by and take a look for yourself.