Hinamatsuri (Girl's Festival) article in the Japan Times, plus my aunt's antique hina dolls

The new Japan Times article by me out today is about Hinamatsuri, or Girl's Festival, which falls on March 3rd. I've talked about Hinamatsuri on this site previously, but the article goes a lot deeper into the traditions and origins of the day, which is to celebrate the well-being and happiness of girls and women. There is also a recipe of course - for a Hinamatsuri-colored spring chirashizushi (scattered sushi), which is great for parties since it's so easily scaleable. I hope you check it out! (If you're looking for daintier, but fiddlier, Hinamatsuri-appropriate sushi, try shell-shaped Hamaguri zushi, or little ball-shaped Temari zushi.)

Hinamatsuri is a day for girls. There's also a day for children on May 5th (Kodomo no hi), but I guess to the people of the olden days the only children that counted were boys, because just about all of the Children's Day traditions are boy-centric! Only households with boys are supposed to put up a flagpole flying koinobori, or carp-shaped wind socks, and the only doll displayed is of a little warrior. Growing up in a household with only sisters, I always vaguely resented the colorful koinobori flown by our across the street neighbors, and never related to Children's Day much. Girl's Day on the other hand was just for us.

Although the Japan Times article is mostly focused on the food-related customs of Hinamatsuri, I also talk a little about the centerpiece of the day, the hina dolls. The prince and princess dolls (odairi-sama and ohina-sama) shown in the article belong to my aunt - they are an antique set she inherited from her mother-in-law. Here's the complete display. There's the newlywed prince and princess flanked by two lanterns (bonbori), three ladies in waiting (san-nin kan-nyo), 5 musicians (go-nin bayashi), and two bodyguards or soldiers, one an archer and the other a spear carrier. The three bearers of goods on the bottom rung accompanying the princess's dowry chests are rather unusual - most sets don't have them. (The custom of bringing a chest of drawers (tansu) with you when you get married still lingers today, especially out in rural areas.) Then there's the couple's wedding feast trays with bowls, and two peach trees, one in full flower and the other one with fruit.

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Even the most expensive and elaborate modern hina doll sets with handcrafted dolls made of wood or ceramic and real fabric, are let down by the cheap-feeling plastic accessories that come with them. They look okay from a distance, but up close they are well, plastic. This set on the other hand has real lacquered wood and cast-porcelain accessories. According to my aunt, the set originally belonged to an aristocratic family, who had to sell it in the postwar period when their finances got tight. It was most likely custom made for the family in better times. It's quite fascinating to imagine all the little girls who must have taken out these dolls every year to display and admire them, so many years ago.

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