Hinamatsuri (Girls' Festival)

"Hinamatsuri" or Girls' Festival is a Japanese seasonal festival (sekku) which falls on March 3. It is considered as a day for girls, most families with girls celebrate it for praying their health and happiness.

However, the "hina" in the word actually means "doll". Families display hina-ningyou, special dolls which are brought out only for this festival, on a dais with peach blossoms and shirozake(white sake).

It was originally observed in order to pray for the well-being of the people by making dolls made from straw and grass. They then let these dolls float down to the sea or river (nagashi-bina) wishing for whatever bad luck or misfortunes they have encountered will disappear together with these dolls. This kind of ritual was practiced during the Syotoku Period. This custom is now called Hina-okuri, and is still practised in some areas.

During the Heian era, these straw dolls were made and thrown away right after the ritual. However, as time passed, the dolls were transformed from crude straw figures into an elaborate dolls designed for adornment. Naturally, people began to think twice about throwing away these dolls or letting them float into the river considering the high cost of acquiring them. And so the practice of keeping and saving the dolls for the next years' festival began.

After the Meiji era (1868-1912) hina-ningyou were merchandized, this custom became widespread across the whole country and became the main event of the sekku in March.

Hinamatsuri is Girls' Day, a day to wish girls well-being. Most families with daughters celebrate by displaying hina-ningyou (hina dolls) in the living room. Dolls are usually placed in a staircase pattern, the dolls on top of the shelf represent the Emperor and Empress. On the second shelf are three ladies-in-waiting, on the third shelf are five court musicians, on the fourth are government ministers, and on the bottom shelf are three court officials.

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