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Dolls are very special during Hina Matsuri

Date Posted: 2012-03-02

Dolls are a young girl’s best friend, and always have been, but here in Japan there’s a tradition behind that love affair, evidenced by celebrating Hina Matsuri, Girl's Day, on Saturday.

The custom of displaying dolls takes center stage March 3rd each year as Japan celebrates in an ages-old tradition. On a public level, Okinawa department stores such as JUSCO Chatan-Mihama have large dolls displays.

The centuries-old festival traces back to the Edo Period running from 1603 to 1867, when the practice included a ceremony during which the sins of the body are shifted to a doll, which is then put adrift on a river. The ceremony traced back to China. Beyond the ceremony, Japanese saw the special time of prayer for the health and well-being of young girls to be a good time to create a festival. Hina, which means dolls, and matsuri, which means festival, was instituted, and the homes of young girls became the setting for doll displays.

The original dolls were made from straw and grass, but in recent years have been mass produced and sold in stores. The dolls are placed in elaborate displays that often include peach blossoms, cubed rice cakes, and special colored and diamond-shaped rice cakes and white sake are made. At the core of the displays are the Odairi-sama, a prince, and Ohina-sama, a princess. The typical seven-tiered Hina Dolla Set is on a platform with a red hi-mosen representing the emperor, empress, attendants and musicians in traditional court dress of the Heian period.

The doll festival varies slightly in different regions of Japan, with different placements of the dolls from left to right, but the dolls set on the same platform levels in each.

Ceremonies have changed over the years. In the beginning, people often believed the dolls had the power to contain bad spirits, leading them to offer prayers and send the straw hina dolls afloat on a boat down a river, a practice that was thought to carry away the evil spirits.

The Hina Matsuri offers amazake, a sweet, non-alcoholic sake drink of fermented rice, along with colored arare, bite-size soy flavored crackers, and a soy sauce-based soup that has clams. Clam shells in food are considered the symbol of a united and peaceful family because they fit perfectly together, but to no other clam.

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