Peach blossoms and dolls to ward off evil and bring good fortune

Ukiyoe from the Edo period depicting a Hinamatsuri celebration for a princess — by Toyokuni Utagawa

Ukiyoe from the Edo period depicting a Hinamatsuri celebration for a princess — by Toyokuni Utagawa

March 3 marks the annual celebration of a more than one thousand year old Japanese tradition known as Hinamatsuri (雛祭り). This day is also called “Girl’s Day”, “Doll Festival”, and “Momo no sekku", which celebrates the blossoming of peach trees in early March. Peach blossoms are thought to ward off evil and bring good fortune to young girls. Dolls and peach blossoms are essential parts of Hinamatsuri.

Dating back to the Heian Period (794-1185), Hinamatsuri originated from a custom, popular at the time, of praying for good fortune for many things during early March. Much of that tradition has carried over through the centuries. Hinamatsuri focuses on granting health and good luck for young girls.  

Central to the celebration of Hinamatsuri are elaborate displays of dolls (雛人形 hina-ningyo), which are primarily displayed in homes and stores. These displays typically consist of a five or seven tiered wooden steps with 15 dolls of various ranks arranged in descending order on the top five shelves, starting with the emperor and empress on the top shelf. Seven tiered displays contain items a bride might receive to populate the new household on the bottom two shelves. Various other symbolic objects also are arranged on the display.

It was believed in ancient times that dolls could take away evil spirits, so a custom arose centuries ago called “doll-floating”, where girls would brush dolls over their skin to take away impurities. These dolls would then be floated down the river or into the sea to take away the evil spirits and protect the young girl’s health and spirit.

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Other traditional items enjoyed during Hinamatsuri include various types of food, drink and flower blossoms that are believed to ward off evil and bring good luck. These include sake (a sweet, alcohol-free type of fermented rice called amazake is given to children), chirashizushi (sushi made with vinegared rice and fish), flavored crackers, a salty clam-based soup, and rice cakes (mochi).

Other treats, like candy dolls and Hello Kitty confectionary dolls dressed in traditional Hinamatsuri fashion also are becoming popular among young girls these days. Displays are usually set up in February and taken down after the festival. A superstition says that if the doll display is left up past March 4, it means the girl will not marry until later in life.

2Pete BarkeyComment