Festivals Japan

What happens to the dolls after Hinamatsuri?

Today, on March 3rd, Japanese girls celebrate their holiday – Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Festival – hina means a doll and matsuri is a Japanese word for holiday, festival). Boys have their holiday on May 5th, which is Kodomo-no Hi (Children’s Day, also called Boy’s Festival). Unfortunately while Kodomo-no Hi is a national holiday, Hinamatsuri is not 🙁

On the occasion of Hinamatsuri, Japanese place in their houses a special stairs-shaped platform with a collection of dolls called hina-ningyo (ningyo also means a doll in Japanese). Dolls, dressed in court dresses from the Heian period (794-1192), are placed on the podium along with a variety of accessories and furniture. Two dolls in the top positions always represent the imperial dollsthe Emperor and Empress, lower levels are assigned to the court ladies, attendants, musicians and court ministers.

Hinamatsuri (1)

Japanese offers diamond-shaped rice cakes (hishi mochi), sweet sake and peach blossoms (symbol of the holiday) to accompany their prayers for the healthy growth and happy future of the young women in their families. Families usually start to display the dolls from the middle of February and take them down immediately after the festival – it is said that leaving the dolls after March 3rd will result in having hard time finding a marriage partner for the daughter of the house 😉

From the ancient times the third day of the third month was a day of purification in the Shintō religion. Hinamatsuri also has its origin in old custom of purification from sin. It was believed that the dolls possessed the power to contain bad spirits and that sins are transferred with the breath to the paper dolls. There was an custom called „doll floating„, in which dolls were set on a boat and sent down a river to the sea, taking bad luck and troubles with them and protecting the girls form ill-fortunes that might happen in the coming year.

Originally the dolls were made from paper, but since hina ningyo became true work of art a complete set of traditional dolls often reach tremendous prices!

Hinamatsuri (9)

That’s the reason why usually a set is handed down from generation to generation. The hina ningyo are only displayed when a family has a daughter. Hinamatsuri tradition was enriched through the centuries due to the custom of buying new dolls, furnitures and other accesories for a girl’s first hinamatsuri. When she grew up and got married, she took her part of the collection and expand it when she gave birth to a daughter.

I was lucky to visit Tokyo this weekend. The dolls you see were for sale, but I didn’t dare to ask about the prices 😉 But where the dolls come from? I’d like to share with you a story of my friend Kate, who is an artist & doll customizer ♥ 

This story is about a meeting with a man who devoted his life to creating dolls.


On that day our gaijin trip was heading to another place but suddenly I spotted a window full of beautiful Japanese dolls and traditional toys. Sleek, elegant princesses with mirrors and miko priestess reading sacred scrolls, chubby boys and girls in kimonos and lots of animals made of chirimen fabric were inviting us to come inside. I just couldn’t leave without entering that intriguing place…

When we went into the small room filled with glass-cases, we started examining every tiny figurine. Some of them seemed really old while others looked like being made recently. Suddenly, almost without a sound, an old man appeared and greeted us kindly. He explained that the place is his showroom and work place. Shelves, hidden behind the glass counter, were filled with colorful bales of fabrics and mysterious brown boxes. The dollmaker eagerly answered our question on the creating process. He started making toys and dolls decades ago for his children. He became skilled enough to open a professional atelier. He showed us how he matches fabrics so that kimonos and obi fit perfectly. Mysterious brown boxes stacked on the upper shelves appeared to hide accessories for dolls. Different kind of flowers, tambourines, mirrors etc. He treated every doll as a unique piece of art that takes time to design and match every element of the composition. One of those dolls is siting right now in front of me looking at herself in a tiny mirror…

Hina ningyo may be a nice souvenir from Japan, don’t you think? 🙂

Izabela Japan

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