Today is the 3rd of March, which makes today Girl’s Day in Japan. The actual day is known in Japan as Hinamatsuri, or in English, the Doll Festival – Matsuri is Japanese for festival, and Hina is the name given to the particular type of doll that typically gets displayed on the day.
Hinamatsuri is traditionally a day during which families pray for the health and happiness of their daughters, and the day is marked by the daughters setting up displays of the Hina dolls (hina ningyou). The dolls are dressed in the traditional clothing of the Japanese imperial court of the Heian period.
The custom of displaying the dolls started way back in the Heian Period, which ran from 794 A.D. to 1185. The dolls are typically arranged on a 7-tiered display, in a particular order. The order may differ slightly depending on the region the festival is celebrated in, in terms of the positioning of the dolls from left to right – but in terms of the tier-order the order remains the same.
Families usually start displaying the dolls in mid-February, but the dolls are put away immediately on the 4th of March, since there is a superstition that families who leave the dolls out later than that will have trouble marrying off their daughters.
The tradition traces its root back to the tradition of hina-nagashi (doll floating) during which paper or straw dolls were floated down the rivers, according to belief carrying troubles and bad spirits away with them. This celebration still takes place in some areas, although, due to the fact that fishermen often catch the dolls in their nets, they now get gathered up afterwards and taken to the nearest temple to be burned.
The Hina dolls displayed in homes themselves don’t get burned, obviously – they get packed away until February of the following year, when they once again get taken out as a charm and protection for the daughters of the house.
There is a similar festival for boys on the 5th of May, Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day), which is also known as the Boy’s Festival. Unlike Hinamatsuri, though, Kodomo no Hi is a national holiday, which forms part of the series of national holidays that take place during Golden Week in Japan.