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Goin’ Japanesque!

Hinamatsuri (Doll Festival) Part 1: History and How to Display the Hina Dolls

The Japanese Hina Dolls are extremely unique and they stand out; perhaps you know of the Hinamatsuri festival already. Therefore, we would like to explain the Hinamatsuri or Doll Festival in a two part series to provide deeper knowledge of this event. The 1st part introduces its history and how to display the hina dolls.


What is the Hinamatsuri Festival


It is an event that is held in hopes of healthy growth of girls. It is generally held annually on March 3rd (April 3rd in some regions). Japanese celebrate 5 seasonal festivals (named Jinjitsu, Jyoshi, Tango, Tanabata, Choyo) and the hinamatsuri is one of them – the seasonal festival of the Jyoshi (another name for it is the seasonal festival of the peach). Hina dolls are displayed and the family gets together to celebrate.


The History of Hinamatsuri

Nagashi bina,

During the Heian period (794- 1185) there was a custom called the “Nagashi bina” which was a custom to release dolls made of grass, straw or paper into the river. This was symbolic for the doll bearing any calamity and sickness on the owner’s behalf. Separately, in the palaces of Kyoto, little girls used paper dolls to play. This was called the Hiina Asobi (asobi means play). This eventually led to a tradition of using the paper hina dolls used in this hiina asobi, to release in the river to ward off evil.

Hina dolls that are displayed in a Japanese room of a common household,

Originally, hina has a meaning of something “small and cute”. The hina doll that was released was simple but as technology developed in the Edo period, (1603-1867) the hina dolls became more and more lavish. As a result, the culture of releasing the hina doll changed to that of displaying the dolls. Moreover, the luxury of the dolls made it so that it would be considered something of a trousseau or a family treasure.

In this way, the presence of the dolls has spread to the common people and throughout the nation as a fun festival. Nowadays in Japan, the hinamatsuri has become established as a day for girls.

  • Girls: March 3rd, Hinamatsuri (Seasonal festival of the peach), Hina doll
  • Boys: May 5th, Boy’s Day (Seasonal festival of Tango), Decorative “Kabuto” war helmet

Related: Japanese Love Numbers: From Superstitions to Proper Etiquette


How to Display the Hina Dolls

5 Step Hina Doll Set,

Explanation of each step starting from the top: 

First Step: Dairi Bina 内裏雛 (dairi=imperial palace)

To the right facing: Mebina (female)
To the left facing: Obina (male)
*In the Kansai region (Kyoto) the left/right are reversed.

Second Step: San-nin kanjyo 三人官女

Ladies in waiting at the imperial palace. The center represents the head lady in waiting. She is seated; has blackened teeth and no eyebrows (this symbolizes her married status).

Third Step: Gonin bayashi 五人囃子

There are 5 musicians playing Noh music. From the right it is the Utai (singer), Fue (flute) and the percussions Kozutsumi, Ootsuzumi and Taiko.

Fourth Step: Zuishin 随身

Guardians of the dairibina. They carry a bow and arrow on their backs.

To the right facing: Sadaijin (older bearded man)
To the left facing; Udaijin (younger)

Fifth Step: Jicho 仕丁

3 servants. There is one who holds a parasol, one who holds on to footwear, and one who holds the umbrella. In the Kansai region (Kyoto) they hold a broom, dustpan and rake.

Sixth and Seventh Step: Space to place hina tools

There is no specific rule and the space can be used freely.


In writing this article, even for us Japanese we realized that there are very detailed and specific rules. At the same time, it is interesting as it helps us envision how the people of the time lived and felt. How did you feel?

See here for the second part: Decorations and Foods Used and What They Symbolize

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