Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Girl's Day




Hello, hello one and all! Trumpets please! Today is ひな祭り (Hina Matsuri)! Or, in English, Girl’s Day. Unlike many holidays which are celebrated with, well, festivals and fanfare, this one is a quiet affair that mostly takes place in the home. I say mostly because I’m munching on these DELICIOUS Hina Matsuri marshmallows in public right now. They’re not traditional or anything. I just picked them up at the conbini.
Called ひなごころ, or Princess Hearts? Anyways, they're strawberry flavored DELICIOUSNESS.
Hina Matsuri officially takes place on March 3rd. However, according to my co-workers, the date can actually vary from town to town. Many of the towns near me in Shizuoka prefecture actually celebrate it on April 3rd, which is when it was celebrated according to the old calendar. Now, let’s blow your mind again. It hasn’t always been called Hina Matsuri. In fact, it used to exclusively be called「桃の節句」(momo no sekku), or Peach Festival. 節句, according to my co-worker is the changing of the season, so it celebrates the changing of spring into winter. Both names, ひな祭り and 桃の節句 are still in use today, but I think it’s more common to see ひな祭りwritten on packaging and the like whereas (or peach) is the symbol of the season. Hellooooo peach flavor.

So, what is it about? One is the changing of the season. Or at least, it was originally. Now, it generally celebrates the healthy development of young girls.  Dolls are placed on a 5-7 tier display (though single tier displays aren’t unheard of), called a 雛壇 (hina dan), which is covered with red fabric, or 段掛 (dankake). The dolls are put out on about February 4th and are put away March 4th. It is said that parents who do not put the dolls away on time will have a hard time marrying off their daughters. Yikes.

These dolls represent the hierarchy of the Heian court (about 794-1192) according to some sources or a Heian wedding ceremony according to others. Maybe it's a little of both? These displays can vary in size, but on the top most tier are the imperial dolls, the emperor and the empress who have a gold screen set behind them. Different regions place the emperor and empress on different sides of the display, but you get the idea.

On the second platform are three court ladies who are at the ready with their sake and usually have sweets on hand. The third tier has 5 male musicians each with their own respective instrument, or fan in the case of the singer. The fourth layer has two ministers on either end. The fifth tier, which is between plants, has 3 guards or samurai. Tiers below this would hold furniture, carriages, or other items which might be used in the court residence. 
Image from ja.wikipedia.org
According to Web-Japan.org , “The practice of displaying these dolls on the third day of the third month on the traditional Japanese calendar began during the Edo period (1603-1868). It started as a way of warding off evil spirits, with the dolls acting as a charm.” The idea was that dolls cold hold or ward off evil spirits or bad luck. There was also once a tradition of placing dolls in baskets and floating them down the river and to sea. While there are still some places which practice this, the most notable being in Kyoto, many places do not keep this tradition. The reason being that the dolls sent to sea were often caught up in the nets of fisherman. So now, the places that do practice this tradition, catching them downstream after the spectators have gone and return them to the shrine to be burned. This is said to have much the same effect as when you return a まもり, or charm, to the temple at the beginning of the year.

Okay, okay! Enough already! What about the food? What about the food, you say? Well, let me tell you! The most popular snack I have noticed lately is called ひなあられ, hina arare. They are crackers which, depending on the region, are flavored with sugar or soy sauce. The two Hina Matsuri foods are Chirashizushi, basically sushi, but in a bowl and more awesome, anうしおじる, or clam soup. 
Image from imgarcade.com
Now, time for me to go get some chirashizushi. ^.^

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