Thank you to my friend Mars and her mother Eiko for sharing their culture and traditions with me and allowing me to share them with others.
On a recent visit to my friend Mars’ home, I noticed she had a large shelf adorned with many dolls. Curious, I asked her about the setup and she told me that Hinamatsuri, also called Doll Festival or Girls’ Day, was approaching. Hinamatsuri is a special day in Japan and happens every March 3. It is a day of celebration for young girls that hopes to bring girls and their families’ a happy future.
Mesmerized by the ornate dolls that sat on pedestals, I wanted to learn more, so I sat down with Mars’ mother Eiko, who immigrated to California from Japan in the early 2000s.
As I asked her questions, she handed me pamphlets and magazine clippings she had saved in drawers.
Eiko told me that the celebration has been around for over 1,000 years, and it is a day where “one hopes for five grains, fertility, good health and prosperity … For no reason on that day, all the girls receive a lot of praise, and that feels good and you feel very appreciated.” She continued to share with me the Hinamatsuri traditions from her childhood that she embraces in her home.
Q: What is the importance of Hiramatsuri and the date, 3/3?
“Hinamatsuri is on March 3 because that is the day that seasons change from winter to spring, and so you hope for the flowers to bloom,” Eiko said.“A lot of the meals we make will be pink, green and white to symbolize spring –– (the) sakura (cherry blossom tree) and leaves are those colors.”
Over dinner, we ate dango she had made — rice balls stuffed with meat — in the pink, white and green that represent Hinamatsuri.
As I looked over the fixture that held intricate and beautiful dolls, Eiko began explaining the meaning of the set-up.
Q: What is the meaning of the dolls?
“Typically, when a girl is born into a family, another family member buys the set of dolls for the daughter. I didn’t know until recently that every daughter that is born is supposed to get their own set, because only my older sister had one. Apparently, inheriting a set is bad luck, and each time a daughter is born you are supposed to buy a whole new set,” Eiko told me with a laugh.
Upon my further inquiry, she began going into detail about the doll’s placement.
“The man at the top is called Obina and the woman is called Mebina. They are to be married, but the day (Hinamatsuri) is not a ceremony for marriage. Below the top level, there are three girls, who work for Mebina. The third row is five guys — not the hamburger (in reference to the fast food chain) — they are the orchestra, playing instruments. Then, there are two men guarding Obina. After the guards, the people are just normal people. In the sixth row and seventh row, there are furniture pieces … It is more common to own only the Obina and Mebina because housing in Japan is smaller and because they are expensive.”
The pamphlet Eiko gave me, “Hinamatsuri: The Japanese Doll Festival,” discusses how Hinamatsuri is influenced by various customs, one of which is an ancient purification ritual where the dolls were used as proxies to cure an illness or misfortune by setting them afloat. This tradition still exists in some areas, but is now a separate tradition from Hinamatsuri. The dolls became more coveted in the homes as doll artisanship improved, seen as an heirloom to be passed down, and thus forming the traditions associated with Hinamatsuri.
Q: Has the way you celebrate Hiramantsuri changed as you have been in America?
“If (Mars) is home, I always put (the doll collection) up,” Eiko said “It feels the same (as when I was a girl) because I always buy the special food and snacks that I grew up with.”
Eiko began sharing about her Hinamatsuri memories as a child in Japan.
“We would set up all the dolls and my mom would make chirashi rice, which is sushi rice with fish, and other ingredients. When I was a kid it was all about the snacks.” Eiko told me.
After our conversation, I thought a lot about the traditions and celebrations we uphold in our homes. Some are more formal than others — like Mars’ and her mother’s Hinamatsuri celebrations or my family’s Ramadan iftars — and others are the creations we choose to make. Whether it’s game nights with family, Bachelor Monday’s with roommates or Sunday dinners with loved ones. These traditions and celebrations provide comfort and times to look forward to as day-to-day life begins to feel mundane. They shape our lives and connect us through generations, bring joy into everyday routines, connect us to culture or faith and offer the hope of something happy to come.
The past year has been hard for a myriad of reasons. Families and friends have been kept apart and traditions have been paused or modified. However, throughout these times people have found new ways to incorporate moments of celebration into their lives: virtual movie nights with friends, Zoom dinners with family and holidays — like Hiramatsuri — from home. These efforts show how, though life has changed, we can still connect with one another and find peace and comfort in old and new celebrations and traditions.
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