In Japan, March 3rd is the day of “Festival for Girls” – “ひな祭り”, “Hina matsuri”.
“Hina” literally means “chick” (in the “baby chicken” sense, though it also has the double meaning in Japanese just like in English, without the slightly pejorative sense).
“Matsuri” means “festival”.
The purpose of this festival is to pray for healthy growing ups for girls. It is also called “Peach festival” (in Chinese tradition, peach brings healthy and not-aging life). Although there are a lot of kinds of Hina dolls, the main characters are a pair of “Dairi bina (内裏雛)”. “Dairi bina” are meant to imitate a prince and a princess. They both wear clothes of the Heian (平安) period – almost 1000 years ago. The characters are sitting on the top of steps, thus indicating the dolls’ hierarchy in the emperor palace. So the other dolls are subordinates, and it expresses order of the palace.
The more dolls there are, the more expensive the set is. Richer people want to have bigger Hina decoration in order to delight their daughters. Recently decorations are getting smaller because of space issues in Japan, a country with a very high urbanization rate. Simplest version of Hina dolls, – only Dairi bina – are therefore getting popular. So if you want to look for bigger decorations, you should go to the rural side of Japan.
In this Hinamatsuri season families also enjoy “菱餅: Hishimochi”, “雛あられ: Hinaarare”, and “White Sake”. Hishimochi is a rhombus shaped rice cake. Its colors resemble the Italian tricolore (in more pastel tones). White expresses snow, Green grass, and Pink life. Hinaarare is sugared, dried, parched rice or beans and it is also very colorful.
After Hinamatsuri, the tradition says that “if the family doesn’t put it away it immediately, daughter’s marriage will be delayed”. Because, – in the old calendar -, rainy season came right after the festival. Mold and worms threatened to damage the figurines’ silky-made clothes.
By the way, today, March 3, is also “Mimi no hi” … “The day of Ears” … Mi-mi as in “3-3”. And “mimi” as “ear” too. Japanese are fond of play on words, indeed.
Happy Hinamatsuri day!