Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with travelling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.
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How many Japan’s annual festivals can you name? While Japanese people celebrate worldwide events such as Christmas and New Year’s Day just like other countries, they also have some unique national holidays that can be experienced only in Japan. Hinamatsuri is one of these festivities. The girl’s day is celebrated nationwide every year on March 3rd. If you live in Japan, or have travelled in Japan during the time of festival some years before, it is probably not your first time to hear about the festival. Though for many people hinamatsuri is an unknown phenomenon. So, what is hinamatsuri? How do Japanese people generally celebrate it and why? Here we will answer these questions and give you a list of the best spots to experience hinamatsuri festival in Japan!
- What is Hinamatsuri?
- How to Celebrate Hinamatsuri
- Brief History of Hinamatsuri
- Best Hinamatsuri Festivals in Japan 2023
- Japan Wonder Travel Tours
- Other articles you might enjoy
What is Hinamatsuri?
As mentioned above, hinamatsuri is an annual festival in Japan which takes place on March 3rd. It is also known as “Girl’s Day” or “Doll Festival” in English. The festival is held to pray for the healthy growth, prosperity and happiness of girls, especially young ones of the age of 10 or under. Back in the days Children’s Day, celebrated on May 5th, was only for boys and hinamatsuri is the counterpart celebrating girls.
How to Celebrate Hinamatsuri
Display a set of traditional hina dolls
Families with young girls will display a set of traditional Japanese beautiful dolls called hina-ningyo (hina dolls) at home. The hina dolls are believed to ward off evil and misery. And the hina dolls are displayed with a prayer for a girl’s good health and happy marriage in the future since they represent the Japanese imperial family’s wedding. The emperor and the empress dressed in traditional clothes from the Heian Period are generally displayed at the top of the platform called hina-dan.
A hina-dan usually comprises three to seven steps. It is believed that they ward off bad luck and instead attract good fortune for the girls. Many people will just have the two dolls representing the emperor and empress, but there are more types of hina dolls. At the top of the hina-dan you will always find the main pair of dairibina (imperial dolls), and below there are servants, children playing instruments, guards and beautiful furniture on each designated step.
The hina-dan is to be set up from the first day of spring (after setsubun) until mid-March, with the minimum being one week before hinamatsuri.
Eat special dishes for hinamatsuri
Like many other holidays, hinamatsuri is also a day when people enjoy special dishes. Chirashizushi is the most popular one, which can be translated as “scattered sushi” in English. It is a traditional Japanese dish consisting of vinegared rice with a variety of ingredients, including vegetables, thin egg omelets and seafood that are scattered on top!
Other special dishes eaten on hinamatsuri are hamaguri clam clear soup and hishi mochi which consists of pink, green and white layers of mochi. All those dishes have special meanings such as to pray for the girl’s good marriage, health and fertility in the future.
The first hinamatsuri is a big deal
The first hinamatsuri for girls is especially important to celebrate. Usually 0-1 year old girls dress in beautiful kimonos and celebrate with their new or handed-down hina dolls from their mothers.
Girls are blessed by parents and often by grandparents too, to celebrate their growth and health, and wish for more happiness to come.
Brief History of Hinamatsuri
There are a few theories about the origin of hinamatsuri, but most likely it started in ancient China around the 3rd century. It was later introduced to Japan and eventually became a part of tradition as Momo no sekku, one of the five seasonal celebrations, in the Nara Period which is over 1,000 years ago.
In those days, the mortality rate of little children was significantly higher than that of today due to infectious diseases and the lack of an adequate medical system. People started to create small paper dolls and flow them down the river, hoping that they would get rid of bad luck from their children as a substitute. It was in the Edo Period (1603-1868) that the current custom of displaying hina dolls at home finally became popular among Japanese citizens.
Best Hinamatsuri Festivals in Japan 2023
While families set up the hinadan with the dolls at home, there are many public places where you can also see impressive displays of the hina dolls as well as several (larger) festivals. If you are visiting Tokyo during the period hinamatsuri dolls will be on display, you can visit the famous Hundred-Steps Staircase at the Meguro Gajoen building and witness it covered in vintage hinamatsuri dolls from across the region of Kyushu. But this event is rather small compared to other events. Here we’ll list the most famous places.
1. Tomisaki Shrine (Chiba)
The most famous Girl’s Day event in Japan is held in Katsuura, a small coast town in Chiba Prefecture. Here they hold the Katsuura Big Hinamatsuri Festival, an event that literally colors the town in festive colors. The main location is at Tomisake Shrine, where about 1,800 dolls are displayed at the stairs of the shrine. In total over 30,000 hina dolls are on display throughout the town from late February to early March.
February 24th – March 3rd 2023
2. Izu Inatori (Shizuoka)
Located in the eastern part of Izu peninsula, Inatori is a small town which is home to relaxing hot spring spots as well as a hina festival which is held from late January through the end of March. Susanoo Shrine is one of the main venues which welcomes visitors with a stunning display of hina dolls arranged on the 118 stone steps leading to the shrine grounds. Traditional hina doll exhibits with hand-made hanging ornaments also can be enjoyed at Inatori Cultural Park and Hina Hall Mukai-an!
January 20th – March 31st 2023
3. Ibaraki (Makabe & Yuki City)
Ibaraki prefecture hosts a number of fun hinamatsuri festivals that can be found across the prefecture. Head to Makabe Town in Sakurai city which boasts a scenic townscape of traditional Japanese houses and storehouses dating back to the Edo period. This beautiful small town is used as a main venue of Makabe Hina Doll Festival which is held from early February through early March. Yuki City is a peaceful city which is easily accessible from Tokyo by Shinkansen. From mid-February to March 3rd, you can join the Yuki City Hina Doll Festival which allows you to explore the lovely city while enjoying hina doll exhibits!
Makabe Hina Doll Festival: February 4th – March 3rd 2023
Yuki City Hina Doll Festival: February 13th – March 3rd *This is the information from 2022, we will update the dates when it’s officially announced
4. Seto (Aichi)
Seto is a smaller sized city in Aichi prefecture which is widely famous for the production of pottery and ceramics. It is about a 50 min train ride from Nagoya Station to reach the lovely city. During the early spring season (usually from early February to early Merch), the entire city features great numbers of hina doll exhibits made of clay or ceramic which are generally used for pottery. At Setogura Museum, you can see a giant hina doll pyramid which comprises over 1,000 handmade hina dolls, which is set up each year.
January 28th – March 5th 2023
5. Tsumago (Nagano)
Tsumago is a well-preserved post town nestled in old Nakasendo route, Nagano prefecture. It is a popular hiking spot for international tourists who want to enjoy the traditional Japanese buildings in combination with beautiful natural scenery. If you get a chance to travel there in the early spring season from March through April, enjoy the impressive hina doll exhibits uniquely displayed at Fureai Hall, which is usually used as a free resting area for tourists. Some houses and shops also display their private hina dolls by the windows, which can be enjoyed while you are walking through the main street of the area!
February 26th – April 3rd 2022
*We will update the dates for 2023 when it’s officially announced
6. Yanagawa (Fukuoka)
Yanagawa is a city located in the southwestern part of Fukuoka prefecture. This lovely city is known for the Yanagawa Hina Doll Festival which is held from mid-February through early April every year. During the festival, colorful handmade ornaments locally called “Sagemon” are exhibited at local shops and popular tourist spots, which welcomes tourists along with traditional hina doll displays. Ohina-sama Water Parade is the highlight of the festival, when children dressed in traditional Japanese costume like hina dolls in boats march down the peaceful canal decorated with beautiful Sagemon ornaments!
February 11th – April 3rd 2023
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Hinamatsuri is a special day for Japanese families with little girls. If you don’t have children, however, you can still enjoy it in many different ways. Trying hinamatsuri dishes is enjoyable for everyone, which also allows you to experience traditional Japanese food culture. It will also be memorable to visit famous Hina doll spots we introduced above!