On the 3rd March, it is “Hinamatsuri” which is usually called “Girls’ Day” but can be translated as “Cuteness Festival”.
My impression is that this festival is not a terribly big deal but - as with most things here - has a long but largely unknown history. Often when I ask a Japanese person to explain the origins or the purpose of a festival I get contradictory information, or the sorry admission of ignorance.
I had imagined Girls’ Day as being a hyper-feminine celebration of the womanly, along the lines of the Roman Bona Dea, men being forbidden to witness and thereby pollute the mysteries. Not so…
Happily, in class yesterday, Ikehara-sensei was on hand to explain. The information sheet she gave us describes it like this:
The original festival, mentioned in The Tale of Genji, written at the beginning of the 11th Century, was to protect people from evil. Everyone made his own statue or doll; wrote his name on it, and floated it down a stream, hoping evil fortune would float away with the statue.
In the middle of the Edo Period (1603-1867), people made elaborate dolls that they displayed only on red-felt-carpeted special steps inside the house, as can be commonly seen today.The set is made up of fifteen dolls in formal classical court costumes: Emperor and Empress on the top, three ladies in waiting, five musicians, two retainers and three guards. Two bonbori lanters, a miniature cherry blossom and an orange tree lend a festive air on the steps.
We were surprised to find such a set of steps erected in Linden Hall a few weeks ago. They’re quite beautiful and, like so much else here, hugely-expensive. Henry-sama is already musing on a discount doll emporium to bring the fun of the ages to the masses.
Another account of the tradition that I have been told, and here is the association with the female of the species, is that the dolls bring luck to a family with a daughter: “luck” of course, means that she’ll be married early. That’s why the dolls are supposed to be taken down on Girl’s Day too. If they’re up late, she’ll be married off late.
Ikehara-sensei also got us to make little origami boxes, into which she poured some hina arare, little crispy snacks flavoured and coloured with sugar and soy-sauce.
I returned home to find a bottle of “amasake” which literally means “sweet alcohol” on the table in the kitchen. It looks like curdled milk, but tastes like a mix of rice-pudding and vodka. I’m pleased to announce that, thanks to the repulsion of the other guys on the floor, I’ll be drinking it alone!
Long live Girls’ Day then.