The month of March is also known as Yayoi in Japan. The word "yayoi" is an idiom combining the words "ya" (more and more) and "sei" (lush vegetation), and means "the month when plants and trees grow thickly more and more".
Among events and customs that have been handed down from generation to generation, one of the traditional events in March is the "Hinamatsuri", also known as Peach Festival or Girl's Festival, which is held on March 3rd to pray for the healthy growth of girls. This article explains about Hinamatsuri.
The Origin of Hinamatsuri
There are many theories about the origin of Hinamatsuri, but the most popular theory is that the ancient Chinese "Joushi-no-Sekku" was introduced to Japan. Originally, it was not a festival for girls, but a seasonal event to ward off evil spirits.
In the calendar devised in ancient China, the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac were assigned so that the people could easily remember them. Joushi is one of the five seasonal festivals (the turning of the seasons according to the ancient Chinese calendar), and refers to the day of the snake in early March.
Since snakes shed their skin and are reborn, Chinese people used to go to the waterside on this day to purify their bodies and get rid of impurities.
Joushi-no-Sekku was first introduced to Japan in the middle of the Heian period (about 1,000 years ago) by the Japanese envoys to China. In Japan, the festival was transformed into an event to ward off evil spirits by placing one's misfortune on a doll made of paper and throwing it into the river or sea.
At the same time, Hiina-play was becoming popular among upper class girls. Hiina-play is a game played with paper dolls and toys that imitate the furniture and tools around them, which is today's "playing house".
At some point, the two kinds of paper dolls, one from Joushi-no-Sekku and another from Hiina-play, gradually merged into one. In the Edo period (1603-1868), Joushi-no-Sekku became known as Hinamatsuri and developed into an event unique to Japan.
What do we do on Hinamatsuri?
Families with girls decorate beautiful hina dolls on Hinamatsuri with the hope that their children will grow up healthy, be blessed with a good marriage, and have a happy life. The dolls are made to resemble the emperor, empress, and their servants, expressing the glittering aristocratic culture.
On the day of Hinamatsuri, the dolls are decorated with peach blossoms to welcome the coming of spring, and a feast is held with traditional foods such as chirashi-zushi, clam soup, and sweet white sake. As it is a festival for girls, the day is filled with a festive atmosphere.
Good Luck Foods on Hinamatsuri
There are some foods that are eaten on Hinamatsuri to bring good luck. Here are some of the most popular.
Chirashi-zushi is a type of sushi in which a variety of food are placed on top of vinegared rice. It looks gorgeous and is perfect for celebrations. The food on top is related to health and longivity such as shrimp which can work until the waist bends, and lotus root which you can see beyond through a hole.
Hamaguri (clam) soup
The shells of the bivalve acorn are paired, so they must be the same shape to fit together perfectly. This is why they have been regarded as a symbol of a good marriage. This is a good luck charm for the Girls' Festival, with the wish that the couple will be together with the same person for the rest of their lives.
A type of Japanese confectionery made by layering peach, white, and green-colored rice cakes and cutting them into a diamond shape. The peach color represents "protection from evil," the white color "purity and cleanliness," and the green color "health". The order in which the colors are layered also has a meaning: "New buds are blowing under the snow, and peach blossoms are blooming on top of the snow".
Shirozake (sweet white sake)
Shirozake is made by adding steamed glutinous rice or rice malt to mirin (sweet sake) or shochu (distilled spirit), letting it mature for about a month, and then mashing it. It is characterized by its cloudy white color and sweet taste. The white color is believed to ward off evil spirits and is drunk as a good luck charm. Since children are not allowed to drink shirozake, it is often substituted with alcohol-free amazake.