Proudly sitting on platforms of red carpet, sets of ornamental dolls are awaiting their own festival on March 3.

Move over boys, this festival is all about girls and dolls. Also dubbed Girls’ Day, hina-matsuri annually celebrates girls by displaying a set of hina dolls and props in the house, wishing girls healthy growth and happiness. Traditionally, parents buy a set of dolls for a newborn girl and some particular dolls are also passed on from generation to generation.

The display dolls are not just any doll – they actually represent the Emperor, Empress, attendants and musicians attired in traditional court dress of the Heian Period. But why the Heian period exactly?

Back in those days, dolls were believed to possess some bad spirits, so straw versions were commonly set afloat on a boat out to sea or down a river, purging the households they lived in of the evilness. Nowadays, sending dolls out to sea is seldom practiced around the country: instead, they’re simply displayed starting in February and taken down immediately following March 3. Rumor has it that, if the dolls are not taken down right away, the daughter is doomed to eternal singledom…

You may have seen elaborate displays of hina dolls in public spaces – sometimes filling a seven-tiered platform, complete with the full Imperial court and amazing details such as sake paraphernalia, drums and kimono boxes. Interestingly, the order in which all the dolls are set vary between Kansai and Kanto, just like many other cultural things: although each platform holds the same characters, the left-to-right order is the opposite.

On Girls’ Day, hishimochi (diamond shaped rice cakes), colored hina-arare (bite-sized crackers flavored with sugar or soy sauce), and shiro-zake (white rice wine) are consumed, along with chirashizushi (“scattered sushi,”, served on plates or bowls with colorful toppings), clam soup, and sakura-mochi.

Interested in seeing some of those aforementioned dolls in a display? The banquet/event hall Meguro Gajoen is opening the doors to its (usually private) Hyakudan Kaidan, a network of seven lavishly decorated rooms. Expect countless gorgeous, handcrafted dolls by artisans from across the country. This year’s theme is the Seto Inland Sea, highlighting the surrounding prefectures of Okayama, Hiroshima, Kagawa and others.

—Vivian Morelli

Hina Matsuri: Girls’ Day

When:  From

Where: Meguro Gajoen (see map below)

How much: ¥1,500 (adults)/¥800 (students)/Free (children)

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