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Goin’ Japanesque!

Hinamatsuri (Doll Festival) Part 2: Decorations and Foods Used and What They Symbolize

This is the second part in a two part series on the explanation of Hinamatsuri. In the second half, we introduce foods that are deeply related to the festival and the meaning behind each food item.


1. Peach Blossom (Decorative Element)

The day of the hinamatsuri, which is March 3rd on the lunar calendar is just about the time when peach flowers blossom. Since the old days, peach was considered an auspicious item that wards off evil. Thus it is used for rituals involving divinity and is also used in decoration for the hinamatsuri, Also, the peach, since ancient times has been a symbol of youth and longevity, expressing the hopes of living to 100 years or “momo-tose” (a play on words as the Japanese word for peach is momo). You can probably understand the importance of the peach to this festival as the other name for hinamatsuri festival is the Peach Festival (Refer to part 1).

*On a side note, the Japanese folk tale of Momotaro has similar beliefs in origin; momo (peach) warding off the oni (demon) a symbol of evil.
Related: 8 FolkTales of Japan: Momotaro “The Peach Boy” and More


2. Hishimochi (Diamond Shaped Rice Cakes)

During hinamatsuri, the hishimochi is eaten. It is a diamond shaped rice cake in different colors stacked in the following order from the bottom: green, white, peach. Each of the colors has meaning.

 – Peach (Pink): Red gardenias that have a detoxifying effect. It symbolizes the peach and signifies warding off evil.
 – White: Water caltrops that lower blood pressure. It symbolizes the snow and signifies cleansing and purity.
 – Green: Mugwort which has a hematopoietic effect. It symbolizes the earth and signifies health and longevity.

The hishimochi expresses the coming of spring, and that “underneath the snow, there are new buds that are starting to grow. Once the snow melts, the peach flowers will blossom”.


3. Hina Arare (Rice Crackers)

Hina Arare are hishimochi that are cut in small pieces then fried. Often times, they come in 4 colors; the 3 colors of the hishimochi plus yellow pieces. It is one well known type of colorful Japanese snack.


4. Shiro Zake

Traditionally in the past, peach wine (wine with peach blossoms soaked in it) was served during hinamatsuri. Nowadays, it is replaced with shirozake (white sake). Children drink a non-alcoholic type of drink called amazake instead.  


5. Chirashi Zushi

Chirashi zushi, a type of sushi that is not rolled, is topped with many garnishes. The abundant variety of toppings symbolizes never going hungry in the future. The colorful appearance is also befitting for the hinamatsuri celebration. Additionally, each topping holds a meaning.

 – Prawn: to live a long life (because its back is bent as one in their old age)
 – Lotus root: to have a good outlook on the future (can see through the holes)
 – Beans (Mame): To live healthy and work diligently (it is a play on words for the same sounding word “mame” to mean diligent)

And so on, this is a very Japanese way to tie symbolic meaning to items.


6. Clam


Because the clam has 2 shells perfectly matching, it symbolizes a happy husband and wife. It is auspicious as it symbolizes spending one’s life with one person. Also, to symbolize 1 body + 1 soul, there is the flesh of the clam placed on each of the 2 shells.


It is quite lavish to have all these types of foods. The older you get, the more you appreciate events like hinamatsuri that brings families together. Does this make you want to participate in the hinamatsuri celebration?

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

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