Hinamatsuri (雛祭り) is a festival for girls held on March 3. Tiered platforms for hina ningyō (雛人形, hina dolls) are set up at home, and families celebrate with a meal, eating hishimochi (菱餅), sweet diamond-shaped rice cakes in pink, white, and green layers, hina-arare (雛あられ), small crisps flavoured with sugar or soy-sauce chirashizushi (ちらし寿司, “scattered sushi”), as well as sakura-mochi (桜餅, sweet pink rice cakes) and drinking shirozake (白酒), sake made from fermented rice. The hina dolls are a set of dolls representing the emperor, the empress, their attendants, guards and ladies-in-waiting, as well as musicians in court dresses of the Heian Era. The festival is also called Jōshi no sekku (Snake Day Festival) or Momo no sekku (桃の節句, Peach Festival).

Origins of Hina Matsuri

The modern Doll Festival appears to have originated from several customs. One of them is an ancient Chinese purification rite called shang-ssu (ssu refers to the sixth animal in the duodecimal cycle symbolised by the serpent) held “in the state of Cheng (774-500 BCE) along the rivers Chen and Wei” in the third lunar month. * During the Heian Period, dolls were used to exorcise impurities, a rite that has its origins in the Shintō katashiro rituals, in which objects were employed as scapegoats to exorcise impurities or evil influences. Katashiro are also termed hitogata (human-shaped), as they had the form of dolls or human effigies, or nademono (“things for rubbing”), from the practice of rubbing the scapegoat against the worshipper’s body to absorb evil influences. Later on, the katashiro were thrown into the river or the ocean (雛流し hina-nagashi, doll-floating).

Another root is the so-called “Winding Water Banquet” (曲水の宴 Gokusui no En), celebrated on March 3 by courtiers since the Nara Period, in which wine cups were floated down a stream running through the garden of the imperial court or a private home. As the cup passed, each guest would lift it, drink, and recite a poem.

The hina dolls of modern times are believed to be a combination of the katashiro used for exorcism and the paper hina dolls Heian-period girls played with. The practice of displaying dolls can be traced back to the early Edo Period (1600-1868). In the beginning, the dolls were arranged on just one dais with a few miniature accessories, but as the festival gained popularity among all classes, the number of tiers, dolls, and household items increased.

Hina ningyō

A complete set of hina ningyō consists of the following platforms:
  • The first platform on the top: Emperor (御内裏様 Odairi-sama) with a baton (笏 shaku) and Empress (御雛様 Ohime-sama)
  • Second platform: three ladies-in-waiting (三人官女 san-nin kanjo) holding sake utensils
  • Third platform: five court musicians (五人囃子 gonin bayashi) holding a drum (太鼓 taiko), a large drum (大鼓 ōtsuzumi), a hand drum (小鼓
    kotsuzumi), a flute (謡い方 fue or 横笛 yokobue) and a standing singer (謡い方 utaikata), holding a fan (扇子 senso).
  • Fourth platform: the Minister of the Right (右大臣 Udaijin) and the Minister of the Left (左大臣 Sadaijin), sometimes holding bow and arrow
  • Fifth platform: three samurai guards
  • Other platforms: a sixth and seventh platform usually displays a variety of miniatures, such as furniture, palanquins, tools, boxes, and chests.


It is the custom for parents to present their daughters with the hina set, usually at birth or on the first birthday, and for the daughters to take it when she marries. The dolls are displayed from the end of February until March 3; it is commonly believed that failure to remove them on the eve of the 3rd will result in the girls having difficulties finding a husband. In some areas paper or clay dolls are still tossed into the river or floated with lights attached, as in the Nagashibina Festival in Tottori Prefecture or at the Shimogamo Shrine (下鴨神社) in Kyōto.

* Alsace Yen, Shang-ssu Festival and Its Myths In China and Japan, 1975