Hina Matsuri (The Doll’s Festival)

Not only today, but every year on March 3rd Japan celebrates the so-called “Hina Matsuri” (ひな祭り). The festival is also known as: “The Girl’s Festival”, “The Doll’s Festival” or “The Peach Festival” (ももの節句).


What is the Hina Matsuri?

As the name suggests it’s a festival for the girls in Japan. There’s also a festival for boys in May called “Children’s Day” (Kodomo no Hi).
While that is a national holiday, the Hina Matsuri is not!

The festival is held in order to pray for a happy and healthy life for one’s daughter.

Hina Matsuri Japan


The origins of Hina Matsuri

According to an ancient Chinese belief you can transfer sin and misfortune to a doll. In order to remove it from your own body, you need to toss the doll into a river.
Even nowadays people float paper dolls down rivers on March 3rd in some regions of Japan. This custom is known as “hina okuri” (雛送り)”nagashi bina” (流し雛) or “hina nagashi” (雛流し). There are many events on March 3rd like the “Nagashibina Event” in Kyoto’s Shimogamo Shrine.

The custom of displaying dolls for the “Girl’s Festival” dates back to the Heian period (794 – 1185).

The dolls will be on display starting from the middle of February. As soon as “Bean Throwing Day” is over, the stores are full of Valentine’s Day chocolate. Right after that there are a lot of cute mini decorations and sweets for the upcoming “Hina Matsuri”.


The Hina Matsuri Dolls

The “hina dolls” (雛人形, hina ningyo) are only displayed when a family has a daughter. Usually a set is handed down from generation to generation or the grandparents or parents will buy one for a girl’s first Hina Matsuri (初節句, hatsuzekku)! A complete set with traditional dolls can be extremely expensive! There is a superstition that the daughter of the house will have a hard time finding a marriage partner if the dolls aren’t put away in the evening of March 3rd!

Beautiful costumes of the Heian period are worn by the hina dolls, representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians. They are displayed on a stand (ひな壇, hinadan) that is often covered with a red carpet. The platform can have several levels (up to 7). The most common ones are one-, five- and seven-tiered stands.

Depending on the region, the order of the dolls from left to right is different, but the order per level is the same. One example where you’ll find this difference in placement is with the Kanto and Kansai regions.

Hina Matsuri Japan


Top Platform:

On the top-tier you’ll find the imperial dolls (内裏雛, dairibina). They represent the Emperor who is holding a ritual baton and the Empress with a fan in her hands. The Empress is not wearing a mere kimono, but a costume called “juuni-hitoe” (十二単, twelve-layered ceremonial robe). The Royal family in Japan wears it during wedding ceremonies even nowadays.
Traditionally the emperor was set up on the right from the viewer’s perspective, but in a modern display he’s sitting on the left.

The hina dolls are usually put in front of a folding screen (屏風, byoubu). These folding screens are very common in Japan for any type of decoration. They’re often also used to display the zodiac of the current year. Most of the time there are also lampstands (雪洞, bonbori) decorated with plum blossoms (梅, ume) or cherry blossoms (桜, sakura) representing the spring season.

Only in a complete set like in the photo above you’ll find some additional decoration. Artificial peach branches are put into two vases and set up between the Emperor and the Empress.

Also very common are Japanese garden trees that can be placed anywhere, not only on the top-tier. There are two different types of trees:
A mandarin orange tree (右近の橘, ukon no tachibana) and a cherry tree (左近の桜, sakon no sakura). The latter is often substituted with a peach tree as the Hina Matsuri it’s the season of the peach blossoms.


Second Platform:

This is the spot for the three court ladies (三人官女, sannin kanjo) who’re all holding sake equipment. Placed between them are stands with round table-tops with seasonal sweets on top.

From left to right (viewer’s perspective):

  • Kuwae no choushi (加えの銚子): backup sake-bearer (standing)
  • Sanpou (三方): sake bearer (seated)
  • Nagae no choushi (長柄の銚子): long-handled sake-bearer (standing)


Hina Matsuri Japan


Third Platform:

A total number of five male musicians (五人囃子, gonin bayashi) is displayed on the third tier. Apart from the singer who has a fan in his hand, all of them hold a musical instrument.

From left to right (viewer’s perspective):

  • A seated drum player with a Taiko drum (太鼓).
  • A standing drum player with a Otsuzumi drum (大鼓, big drum).
  • A standing drum player with a Kotsuzumi drum (小鼓, hand drum).
  • A seated player with a Fue (笛, flute) or a Yokobue (横笛, transverse flute).
  • A singer (謡い方, utaikata) who is holding a Sensu (扇子, Japanese folding fan).


Fourth Platform:

The fourth tier displays two ministers (大臣, daijin) who sometimes carry bows and arrows:

  • Udaijin (右大臣): The Minister of the Right is on the left side from the viewer’s perspective!
  • Sadaijin (左大臣): The Minister of the Left has a long white beard as he’s the superior in the old Japanese court and thus the older one of the two ministers.

Often there are two tables (お膳, ozen) between the ministers as well as diamond-shaped stands (菱台, hishidai) with diamond-shaped rice cakes (菱餅, hishimochi) on them. It’s a traditional dish for the Hina Matsuri.

Hina Matsuri Japan

Some expensive sets have the complete imperial palace on the top-tier!


Fifth Platform:

On display are the three male protectors of the Emperor and Empress.

From left to right (viewer’s perspective):

  • Nakijogo (泣き上戸): the whiny drinker
  • Okorijogo (怒り上戸): the quarrelsome drinker
  • Waraijogo (笑い上戸): the merry drinker


Sixth Platform:

On the sixth tier you’ll find a variety of miniature items that can be found within the imperial palace. Common items include:

  • Kyodai (鏡台): a smaller chest of drawers with a mirror on top
  • Tansu (箪笥): a chest of drawers
  • Nagamochi (長持): a long chest used for kimono storage
  • Hasamibako (挟箱): a small box used for storing clothes, it’s placed on top of the nagamochi
  • Daisu (台子): utensils for the tea ceremony (お茶道具, ocha dougu)
  • Haribako (針箱): a sewing kit box
  • Hibachi (火鉢): two braziers

Hina Matsuri Japan

Some people have not much space in their apartment, so they use only the top level. Even here you can find some of the most important items I introduced in this post. In many schools, kindergartens, post offices and shops, they often set up a very small version like this one.


Seventh Platform:

In a seven-tiered stand this is the bottom. Here you’ll find miniature items that can be found outside the imperial residence. Some examples are:

  • Jubako (重箱): tiered lacquered food boxes often used for osechi-ryori on Japanese New Year’s Day
  • Goshoguruma (御所車): a carriage drawn by an ox
  • Gokago (御駕籠): a palanquin


Special dishes for Hina Matsuri

Hina Matsuri Japan As for most festivals in Japan there are also some special dishes for Hina Matsuri.

The traditional colors for this festival are white, green and pink (or red). White is for purification, green stands for health and pink (red) will chase away evil spirits. The idea behind Hina Matsuri is to pray for a healthy and happy life for one’s daughter(s), so it only makes sense that those colors are also a part of the special dishes for this festival!

Hishimochi” (菱餅) are diamond-shaped rice cakes with exactly those three colors! “Sakuramochi” (桜餅, bean paste-filled rice cakes with cherry leaves) is also eaten (see photo).

Not only mochi, but also “Chirashizushi” (散らし寿司, a special type of sushi) is served as well as “Hina-arare” (雛霰, rice cake cubes). Some people drink “Shirozake” (sweet white sake made from fermented rice).

Finally, people might also eat “Ushiojiru” (潮汁, a salt-based soup with clam shells). Clam shells are a symbol of a united couple, so I guess parents carry the hope that their daughter will find a good partner for marriage in the future.


How about you?

Have you heard of “Hina Matsuri” before?
Do you celebrate it?
What do you think about this festival?


  • The hina ningyo are beautiful and some of the displays are truly an art form. The display at our family home in Japan takes up a whole room as it is so big and elaborate. It is also a great time of the year because of the beautiful plum blossoms and matsuri that are around.

    • It must be fun to set it all up together! I guess it’s similar to decorating a Christmas tree with your loved ones! :)
      Yes, it’s the beginning of spring and from now one great festival season follows another!

  • Nice. I like how informative this article is.
    Can I ask, where do you get all this? Do you use any references?
    If you do, can you share it? Please and thank you^^

    • Hello! :)
      Thank you very much.
      This goes for all of my articles not just for this one:
      I’ve been in Japan for 6 years now and most of the things I share here are just common knowledge if you live in Japan.

      My main resources are my own experience, my Japanese co-workers and friends and Wikipedia. :)

  • In India, similar type of doll arrangement/festival is there. Mostly it is limited to three of its southern states- Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. In Andhra Pradesh it is known as ‘Bommala koluvu’. It is arranged in January for three days- 13, 14 and 15 – during harvesting time and in October- just before onset of winter- during Navaratri festival time for 9 days. In Tamil Nadu and Karnataka also it is arranged during those nine days and they call it ‘Golu’.

    Hinamatsuri and Bommala koluvu are being arranged in similar style. One difference is- red cloth is used in Hinamatsuri and white cloth is used in Bommala koluvu. In India,importance is given to deities and themes related to them. But now a days- various contemporary themes are being used in doll arrangements..

    • Sandhya,
      That’s very interesting. I have never heard of this before, so thanks so much for letting us all know.
      Who would have thought there’s a similar festival in India! :D

  • I forgot to mention another name also. it is Kerala, fourth state of south India. there also doll festival happens. In nut shell total South India celebrates doll festival. It is totally female festival.

  • Great post Jasmine,
    Now that I have a daughter and that she’s not a baby anymore, I need to start paying attention to Hina Matsuri.
    This year she’s still a bit young, but I need to practice for next year, which I guess will be the first year she’ll actually celebrate it.

  • Just curious, does it mean anything if a Japanese guy specifically gave me something for Hina Matsuri?

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