Saturday, 3 March 2012

Girls' Day

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. 

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