Hina matsuri, or Doll Festival, is a Japanese holiday celebrated on March 3, the third day of the third month. Also known as Girl’s Day, it is the companion to the holiday on fifth day of the fifth month, or May 5, which is celebrated as Boy’s Day.
Unlike many Japanese festivals, this is a holiday celebrated in the home. It revolves around the display of hina or dolls that have been collected by one or more females in the house. These dolls are traditionally dressed in Heian (794-1185) period garb, and always include a pair of emperor and empress dolls.
In these hashioki examples the emperor is the larger doll with the square shoulders and brocade hat, and the empress is the smaller doll. The emperor and empress are often shown joined at the hip, as they are here, and are thought to have evolved from paper dolls (kamibina) that were popular in the Heian period. There was also a purification rite during the Heian era when paper dolls were thrown into a river to remove sin.
Because the dolls date back to this time period, it is also easy to imagine that the male and female pair really represent Prince Genji and Lady Murasaki from the famous 11th. century romance, The Tale of Genji. (You may want to read my January 2016 post on The Tale of Genji.)
A full set of hina matsuri dolls has 15 dolls, and includes an emperor and empress, three ladies in waiting, five court musicians, two ministers and three guards, along with an elaborate lacquered tiered display stand, doll-sized furniture and detailed accessories. Assembling a full set costs several thousand dollars. Maybe that is the reason why the dairibina, or Imperial Couple dolls, by themselves today represent the holiday. But I can’t help but think that Japanese entrepreneurs are missing an economic opportunity; few families today can afford to assemble a complete hina matsuri set, or have the space the store it. So a 15-piece hashioki set for hina matsuri seems like a great solution to me.
I purchased this reportedly vintage dairibina pair of hashioki at an antiques fair in Tokyo. It turns out that diamond-shaped rice cakes, known as hishimochi, are one of the holiday’s traditional foods, so they were a great find.
But perhaps the most appealing hina matsuri in my hashioki collection is this pair of royal rabbits. The Japanese have a special affection for usagi (rabbits). They’re a popular design motif, and you even see domesticated rabbits for sale in the pet departments of Tokyo department stores. So this pair creatively combines a love for rabbits and a love for hashioki.