March 3, 2010

Hina Matsuri – the Japanese Doll Festival

Another name for this festival is Girls' Day.

Families with girls arrange stair-step platforms covered with red carpet on which ornamental dolls are displayed.

The dolls at the to
p of the display represent the emperor and empress; the lower dolls are the attendants and musicians. (John Marshall, a dollmaker, has a description of every platform level of a typical doll display.)

Doll furniture, lamps, vases, screens, and other accessories are included in many displays, and peach blossoms are used as decoration.

These dolls are not playthings! Instead, they are important family heirlooms that are handed down from generation to generation. They are displayed a few weeks per year (starting in mid-February and ending on March 3), and they are carefully stored the rest of the year. Families that can afford the expense buy new dolls for a girl who has been born since the last festival, and relatives and friends make gifts of dolls as well. Many families add one or two items to their displays each year, and in the weeks preceding the festival, beautiful store displays of dolls, doll furniture, and hina accessories begin to appear.

In the past, girls would dress in their best kimonos and either visit friends or host visitors themselves. At these special parties, girls ate colored crackers and sweet rice cakes, and they drank rice wine.

Dolls into the drink...

Some families release paper dolls into swiftly-flowing streams and rivers during the doll festival. Originally, the paper dolls were supposed to hold all the bad luck and illness that had plagued the family—and as the paper dolls were swept away by the water, so all their evils were thought to be swept away as well.

Dolls at a shrine...
Kada shrine in Wakayama prefecture, in Japan, is decora
ted for Hina Matsuri with thousands of figurines, icons, and dolls. Check out the amazing photos on the site! (Be sure to scroll down.) A photo of a boatload of unwanted hina dolls on the Kada shoreline can be found here.

Dolls as ambassadors...

In 1926, an American man wanted to promote peace between Japan and America, and he came up with the idea of having American children send dolls to the children in Japan for Hina Matsuri. Almost 13,000 of these dolls were eagerly welcomed and soon called “Blue-eyed Dolls,” but what happened next...

Well, I won't try to tell the whole story, because it is done so well here.

Learn the Hina Matsuri song. (Scroll down.)

Make a Hina Matsuri feast
(“for dolls and their owners”).

Make origami dolls.

Here is a super-simple model.
This is a bit more complicated.

Take a peek at the multi-layer, multicolored origami dolls made by a pro.

Create your own ambassador doll.

Find a doll that looks and dresses generally like you do, and write a letter telling your doll's name and a little bit about his or her “life.” Make your doll's life somewhat like your own. For example, if you live in a city about an hour away from the mountains, homeschool, go to a mountain cabin often on vacation, have two dogs, and are crazy about movies, include those details in your doll's biography, too.

Make a special doll passport with your doll's name and nationality.

Then go to all your favorite spots and photograph your doll in each of those locations. Put the snapshots in an inexpensive album with simple labels.

Last, write a letter asking other students to take your doll on a tour of their home and city, photographing the doll in those areas, and writing about their adventures.

Here's the brave part: put all of that stuff into a box and mail it off to a school or family in another country. Find a class or family willing to “host” your doll—and return the doll with the new photos to you—using a pen pal site such as Youth Online.
Or join an already established friendship doll program.

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