Hinamatsuri

March 3, 2011

Since March 3rd is Hinamatsuri (Girl’s Day) in Japan, I am dedicating today’s post to this ceremony. Pretty obvious, I know, but anyway a good chance to learn something more on this tradition.

Hinamatsuri (雛祭, also known as hina-no-sekku, 雛の節句, or momo-no-sekku, 桃の節句, joshi-no-sekku,  上巳の節句) has its origin in an ancient Chinese custom in which people transferred thier misfortune to a doll and then floated it on a river in order to ward off evil spirits. In the middle of Heian period (794 – 1191) this custom was brought in Japan, 上司の節句, where it took the name of  Hina-nagashi (雛流し, “floating dolls”). A fortune teller called onmyouji (陰陽師) used to pray and offer seasonal food to the Gods, then paper dolls were floated on a river or the see.

This is a Nagashibina set with a pair of paper dolls, a male and a female; however I've read that in Kitagi dolls are floated in groups of 13: 12 women and one man, the "sendo-san," to row the boat.

Hina-nagashi (or Nagashibina)   is still celebrated in some sanctuaries, such as the Meiji Shrine and  the Shimogamo Shrine near Kyouto, as a part of Girl’s Day; anyway, since fishermen complained about catching the dolls in their nets, they are now sent out on boats, and when the spectators are gone boats are taken back out of the water and burnt into a temple. Then habits are a little different in every area, for instance at Meiji Shrine dolls are rather made by fish-food so to be environmentally safe.

Anyway, the mos typical tradiction of Girl’s day is the display of a set of dolls, which comes from a combination of the practice described above and the Hina-asobi ( 雛遊び, “playing with dolls”) that was common among women and children in the Heian court, of which we find descriptions in Murasaki Shikibu’s “Genji monogatar” and Sei Shounagon’s “Makura no Soushi”.

From the combinations of these two customs stems the still practiced Hinamasturi, that was legally established as a national festival in 1687. The ceremony consists in the display of a set of ornamental dolls (雛人形, hina-ningyou) on a platform (雛壇, hinadan) covered with a red carpet.  Few days before the festival, girls and their mothers take out the hina and arrange them on the red cloth. Peach blossoms are a typical decoration of the festival since they represent fertlity and positive feminine qualities such as grace and tranquillity.

Families offer to the altar also shirosake (white sake)
and mochi, either flavored with a wild herb or colored
and cut into festive diamond shapes. after the festival
they are immediately taken down, since according to
the superstition leaving them there would result in a late
marriage of the daughter.
The hina ningyou set represents a royal wedding on a spring day at the imperial court of Heian and dolls have luxury clother that reproduce the style of that time. Dolls are not ordinary ones, nor old style paper dolls, but are made of a base material (generally wood), covered by gofun, a substance made principally of oyster shells and responsible for the dolls’ luster. Traditionally, the hair was either human hair, horsehair, or silk, although now there are many fibers used.
The altar is typically made of seven steps.

– On the top one, there is the Dairi-bina (内裏雛) or Dairi-sama, that is to say the Imperial couple. The two dolls are usually placed in front of a folding screen (屏風, byoubu), that is the most important decoration of the altar and may be plain, golden, or elaborately decorated. Optional are the two lampstands, called bonbori (雪洞), and the paper or silk lanterns that are known as hibukuro (火袋), are usually decorated with cherry or ume blossom patterns. The doll representing the Emperor has the richest clothing and a tall hat; the Empress has the traditional juunihitoe (十二単), that is to say a twelve-layered kimono. The traditional arrangement had the male on the right, while modern arrangements had him on the left (from the viewer’s perspective).

– The second tier displays three court ladies san-nin kanjo (三人官女), wearing scarlet pantaloons, each of them holding a sake equipment. Serving the dairi bina sake is part of the Shinto wedding ceremony, so they may be priestesses or miko.

– The third tier holds five male musicians gonin bayashi (五人囃子).

– The fourth displays two Ministers: the Minister of the Right  (右大臣, udaijin), depicted as a young person, and the Minister of the Left (左大臣, sadaijin), represented as much older.  They are both armed, usually with bows and arrows, and occupy the far ends of their step. Between them there are covered bowl tables (掛盤膳, kakebanzen), and diamond-shaped stands (菱台, hishidai) bearing diamond-shaped ricecakes. Hishidai with feline-shaped legs are known as nekoashigata hishidai (猫足形菱台).

– The fifth tier, between the plants, holds three helpers or samurai as the protectors of the Emperor and Empress. They are the Maudlin drinker or nakijjougo (泣き上戸), the Cantankerous drinker or okorijougo (怒り上戸) and the Merry drinker or waraijougo (笑い上戸).

– On the sixth  step there are items used within the palatial residence: a tansu (箪笥) a chest of drawers; a nagamochi (長持),  a long chest for storing of kimono; two hasamibako (挟箱), small clothing boxes that together are a little shorter than the nagamochi and therefore are placed on top of it; a kyōdai (鏡台) a chest of drawers with a mirror on top; a haribako (針箱), that is to say a sewing box; two hibachi (火鉢), or braziers; and a daisu (台子, which is a set of  utensils for the Japanese tea ceremony.

– On the seventh tire there are other items, that have to be outside the palace: a jubako (重箱), a set of nested laquered boxes for carrying food; a gokago (御駕籠 or 御駕篭), a palanquin; and a goshoguruma (御所車), an ox-drawn carriage favored by Heian nobility; less common is a hanaguruma (花車), an ox drawing a cart of flowers.

Then decorations are different in the various areas of Japan, according to local traditions: for instance, Kyouto-made altars have miniature kitchens and hearths for cooking, which you’ll never find in Toukyou ones.

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One Response to “Hinamatsuri”

  1. Philippe said

    Thank your for this article, it’s very interesting. I hope you will describe other Japanese traditions in the future.

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