Girls Day in Japan is fast approaching, and my wife and daughter are coming home soon, just before Girls Day, so that means I had to setup the doll set again this year. Girls Day is March 3rd, but it’s also known as the Peach Festival, or momo no sekku (桃の節句), because peach blossoms often bloom around this time. This is the third year I’ve setup the doll set.* Here’s a picture from when Baby was just 6 weeks old, celebrating Girls Day with a nice nap:
You see, in Girls Day there is a universal tradition in Japan to setup a special doll display called hina-ningyō (雛人形). The really elaborate sets have 7 steps, but as our old condo in the US was really, really small, Baby’s grandparents bought a nicer set, but only the first tier. You can see it above. The doll set is symbolic of a classic wedding between the Emperor and a princess. The costumes, colors and display are specifically reminiscent of the Heian Period (8th through 11th centuries) which was the high period of the Imperial court culture. Samurai didn’t really exist yet, so the court in the city of Kyoto (called “Heian” back then) and the Emperor was the real power in those days, and all the noble families lived in a kind of Confucian hierarchy. The Heian Period is kind of a Golden Age in Japanese history, because of its culture and refinement, hence the theme for the doll sets. The doll set represents a wonderful and prosperous marriage for one’s daughter(s), with procession of musicians, guards, and ladies-in-waiting. Every little girl is a “princess” to her father of course.**
So, if you’re a Western father with a little Japanese daughter (of half-Japanese daughter, whatever), here’s my guide to how to setup one of these sets. If you’re like me, I stressed the first time around because the pieces are fragile, and the instructions are either in Japanese or non-existent. Consider this a survivor’s guide. Sorry for the bad-quality cell-phone pics. My wife has the camera at the moment. Here’s the boxes for our set:
A couple boxes are still packed in moving boxes we never opened, so this year, the set is a bit more simpler, but you can compare with the picture at the top. Mainly, all the flowers and lanterns are missing this year.
First, lay out the red cloth and the main platform. You should definitely be wearing cloth gloves for this (included in our set), to avoid staining the black lacquer.
Now add the seats and the back screen:
Now you have to carefully take out the two main dolls, once you wade past lots and lots of careful packaging. Try to keep it all together, because you’ll have to put the dolls away and remember what you did next year. Here’s the Emperor doll, or odairi-sama (お内裏様), without accessories.
The clothing is an interesting mix of imported Chinese-style fashion, but still with a Japanese-style appearance. This was a time when Japanese actively importing from China, but native traditions were already pretty well-set, so this is kind of an interesting blend. Here’s the princess, or hinasama (お雛様):
Note, the many, many layers of robes, each of a different color. Ladies of the court wore many layers of robes, more than later kimono fashions people typically think of. Twelve layers of robes, or juni-hitoe (十二単), was not uncommon for higher-ranking ladies, and even Princess Masako wore this style when she married the Prince in 1993. The sleeves were much longer, bigger then too and easily reached to the floor. Note the length of the hair in this photo as well as the length of the robes:
This fellow put together a nice website elaborating on the dress. It really reflects how refined life was for the Heian court (though probably not for people outside the court). For some reason this calls to mind the French nobility during the time of Louis XIV,*** who similarly lived in a very privileged lifestyle. Anyways, let’s add some accessories:
Here we have the little flower vases, or kabin (花瓶), and the hishimochi (菱餅). The hishimochi is the three-colored, diamond shaped “mochi” or rice cakes shown on both sides. According to JapanesePod101.com’s lesson on Hinamatsuri, the red color stood for good luck, green for health and white for purity. Now we should add the accessories to the two dolls. For the Emperor we add the sword,**** the ceremonial headress (still used in Shinto and Imperial ceremonies) and the wooden paddle or shaku. The paddle is a kind of scepter used among Shinto priests (kannushi) or by the Imperial family.
And for the princess, her fan:
In the Heian court, fans were a big deal, and men would write love poems in calligraphy on fans and leave them with the ladies they wanted to impress. Poetry writing was a one of many arts that were very refined at this time, and could make or break someone.
And the finally the full set (minus the flowers, as stated earlier):
…and that’s just the first level. If you want to see the other levels and how they’re broken up, read here. One of my wife’s cousin, once-removed, is a teenager and still lives in the family home out away from Tokyo. One time we visited around Hinamatsuri, and I saw their family build the full 7-tier display. That is an all-day venture, but if the kids are older, it can be a lot of fun.
So, to my little girl, HAPPY GIRLS DAY!
* – Previous year’s post here. No jokes about me playing with dolls, ok?
** – They certainly act like it sometimes. Ha ha ha.
*** – Yes, the Sun King. That’s about all I can remember from European history, but somehow everyone remembers this one.
**** – A long saber, but looks pretty different than the later katana people usually are familiar with. By the way, the sword is one of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan.