Happy Girl’s Day! Today just so happens to be one of my favorite days of the year—Girl’s Day or in Japanese, Hina Matsuri. The Girl’s Day Festival has been celebrated in Japan for the past 900 years (and in my own home for nearly 35). The traditional event is held on the third day of the third month when the cherry and peach trees are in bloom. The delicate blossoms signify the feminine traits – of gentility, composure and tranquility.
In Japan, families spend the day participating in activities to ensure their daughter’s happiness. Houses are decorated with collections of elaborate and extremely expensive (prices range from 500 to 5000 dollars) dolls called hina-Ningyo. The special dolls are replicas of members of the Japanese royal court, including the Emperor and Empress and their subordinates. Japanese families display the set of dolls in the best room of the house. The operative word here is “display.” Hina-Ningyo are ceremonial dolls—-not ones that are played with. The dolls are handmade and beautifully detailed, with intricate brocaded silk kimonos, fans, and musical instruments. Typically, they are passed down from generation to generation. I received my first hina-Ningyo shortly after I was born. In keeping with Japanese custom my Okinawan grandparents presented me with my doll and it remains at my parent’s home today. (My doll is large, delicate, and very expensive, and I don’t feel comfortable having it shipped 5,000 miles to my current home.)
Japanese historians believe Hina Matsuri evolved from ancient Shinto purification ceremonies. In the old days, on March 3rd, Japanese families made origami dolls, which they would breathe on (in doing so they believed they transferred their ill fortunes or sickness to the dolls). The family would then travel together to a nearby brook or river, and cast the dolls, bearing all their evils, into the water.
Girl’s Day is also a big celebration in Hawaii (where I was born and raised). It may have its roots in Japanese culture, but in Hawaii’s ethnic melting pot, it is an event, which has been adopted and embraced by all families. Since I am half Japanese and grew up the only girl in a house full of boys (by the way, Boy’s Day is celebrated on May 5th) it may come as no surprise that Girl’s Day was a BIG deal in our home. As the only girl, the day was celebrated much like my birthday. I received presents from each of my brothers and from my parents and grandparents—-all dolls (or stuffed animals—a western interpretation of “dolls”). I also got to choose that night’s dinner menu, including dessert, which consisted of traditional Japanese mochi (sweet rice cakes), cupcakes, tarts, and cookies from my favorite bakery.
Even Hawaii’s schools recognize the day. On Girl’s Day, teachers throughtout the state encourage male students to engage in one act of kindness to female students. When I was growing up, boys would be made to carry a girl’s school bag or lunch tray. In my school, the boys were also mandated to allow the girls to “cut” in front of them in the lunch line, the water fountain line and the line to the school bus. (This, of course, was all reciprocated on Boy’s Day.)
Today, I continue the Girl’s Day tradition with my own daughter. While she is only 2-years-old, and doesn’t quite grasp the concept of Girl’s Day, we still shower her with gifts and sweets. And, thanks to my parents, she has a growing collection of smaller hina-Ningyo and understands that they are dolls we look at, but don’t touch (that’s where the other gifts come in).
Presents aside, Girl’s Day is rooted in love. Japanese families observe the day to encourage filial piety, ancestor worship, and loyalty, but at the core of the festival is the love of children by their parents. As in other cultures, Japanese parents see their children as the light of their lives–their pride and joy–and their desire to please them is unwavering. If nothing else that is the message I hope my daughter gets as we celebrate her today.
I love you Taylor! Happy Girl’s Day!