Odairi-sama (left: dairi, originally meaning the emperor’s living quarters, is a word symbolizing a noble pair of dolls) and Ohina-sama, the highest-ranking pair of dolls among the traditional hina dolls (Photo courtesy of Yoshitoku Co.)
The symbol of Hina-matsuri is the hina doll. As March draws near, families with girls set up a large display of dolls. A tiered stand for the dolls is covered with red cloth, and a pair of dairi-bina, (imperial couple) in beautiful kimono is placed on the top tier. Dairi-bina originally represented the emperor and empress, so they are in costumes reserved for the noblest persons in the court. Three female dolls in red hakama (long pleated skirt-trousers worn over kimono) are placed on the tier below. Five dolls representing children, each with a different musical instrument, are placed on the third tier from the top.
Different regions have developed different customs. In a hot-spring resort town on the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture not far from Tokyo, families decorate their homes by hanging many small, handmade tsurushi-bina (hanging dolls). This custom began about 150 years ago.
“Tsurushi-bina”(hanging hina dolls) displayed at a hot-spring resort on the Izu Peninsula. Each handmade doll carries families’ wishes for the happiness of their daughters. (Photo courtesy of Inatori Association of Sightseeing)
Expressions on the faces of small hina dolls, costumes and small pieces of furniture and tools such as lanterns that go with the dolls look real. This fine workmanship of Japanese artisans is a “must-see.” You will never get tired of admiring scenes that reproduce in miniature the life in the ancient imperial court. One doll that stands out is ohina-sama, a female doll in 12 colorful layers of traditional kimono worn in the imperial court, which is called juni-hitoe (12-layered ceremonial kimono).
Modern, full-faced hina dolls with broad foreheads and round eyes (Photo courtesy of Kougetsu Co.)
Hina dolls are made with traditional Japanese doll-making techniques. Traditional Japanese facial features – an oval face with narrow eyes – are in the main stream. But people say the facial expressions and hair styles of hina dolls have slowly become more modern. Four years ago, dolls with a round face with round eyes made their debut. They are popular among young mothers and children who have grown up watching anime and manga characters, and the number of families buying them is said to be on the rise.
“Second Life” for Retired Dolls
A giant tiered hina doll display carefully arranged on 60 stone steps of a shrine (Photo courtesy of Katsuura City)
After March 3, hina dolls should be put away as promptly as possible. This is because there is a legend that if they are on display for too long, girls in the family will tend to marry late.
Hina dolls spend a long time in storage, and when the girl who owned them gets married and goes away, their role is finished. Some families hand down their hina dolls to daughters and granddaughters. Since their styles may become old-fashioned, they may be no longer used. These dolls are brought to shrines or temples to be burned in kuyo, or a memorial service for the dead, so that their spirit will rest in peace.
“Fukuyose bina” (good luck-inviting hina doll) made with a retired hina doll. He may have wanted to come down a snow-covered mountain on a snowboard, cutting a dashing figure. [Photo courtesy of Kogire Bijyutu Koboh (Antique Kimono Arts Studio)]
Dolls, too, must have wanted to read newspapers. Unique “fukuyose-bina” are popular in exhibitions and also events to reenergize communities in many parts of the country. [Photo courtesy of Kogire Bijyutu Koboh (Antique Kimono Arts Studio)]
Recently, there have been moves in many parts of the country to use retired hina dolls to reenergize the community. A “Big Hina-matsuri” event is held every year in Katsuura City, Chiba Prefecture, southeast of Tokyo. Hina dolls are displayed here and there in town and also there is a parade of children. The highlight of the event is a giant tiered stand of hina dolls, with some 1,200 dolls displayed on the 60 stone steps in front of a shrine. The display is beautifully lit up in the evening to the delight of many tourists visiting the city.
On the other hand, many other cities and towns display “fukuyose-bina,” or good luck-inviting hina dolls. These are retired hina dolls arranged in unique ways, including as motorcycle or snowboard riders. Traditionally, hina dolls have not been something to play with. They have been displayed in the “right” posture and in a formal manner. To see these dolls doing ordinary things in daily life such as shopping or reading newspapers is heart-warming because they seem to be enjoying their lives after retirement.
After a long winter a warm spring comes to Japan along with Hina-matsuri.