My colleague plops down in his seat next to me, and nods in my direction. Knowing that he has a young daughter I ask him if he’ll be celebrating Hinamatsuri today. Of course, he says, she wouldn’t let me not celebrate it, and giggles.
On Hinamatsuri, March 3rd, girls all over Japan are appreciated through being given presents, candy, and making brightly coloured food in honour of the event. Yet, the most traditional part of the event is the ornate Hinamatsuri dolls on display in shop windows, homes and in the foyers of hotels, swimming pools, community halls, and all other kinds of public and private establishments.
The shelves of delicate, ornamental dolls are arranged on red carpet in order of hierarchy. The top shelves hold the Emperor and Empress followed by female attendants holding sake on the next shelf. In larger, and more expensive, sets more attendants can be found, including musicians and samurai. Along the bottom two shelves miniature furniture sets will be placed, along with an orange tree and a cherry blossom tree, indicating the stature and importance of the family. All of the dolls wear the traditional court dress of the Heian period and the sets can extend for up to seven or eight shelves.
My colleague tells me, due to a lack of space in his central Tokyo apartment, he only has the Emperor and Empress on display. His daughter, just five years old, has received gift money and presents from his extended family. Later, he’ll also be giving her a box of traditional Japanese confectionary called Wagashi, 和菓子.
Whilst not all families celebrate the event in quite the same way, it is customary to prepare a particular meal. Families decorate meals with bright colours, especially pink dressings and garnish, together. The key part of the meal being a salt and clam based soup called Ushiojiru, pink, soy sauce flavoured, crackers and a fermented rice sake called shirozake.
Last year I was lucky enough to be a part of a cross cultural event teaching foreigners how to prepare food for Hinamatsuri. Ushiojiru, the salt based soup, is made with whole clams in the shell and simmered overnight. The whole clams represent a harmonious and united couple, unique in their fitting, and unable to fit with any other half. It represents hope for the girl to marry well in later life and bring honour to the family.
Hinamatsuri, steeped in tradition and iconography, has been recorded in Japan for near one thousand years. As such, much of the celebration revolves around marrying well and establishing an appreciation for the duties that the girl must adhere to when she is older. It is interesting to see how the event is observed, and modified, as Japan undergoes rapid amounts of change and westernisation.