Hina Matsuri Means Spring is Here
Tiny Dear Daniel and Kitty White with their netsuke interpretation of the Imperial Couple
Well, I meant to cover my regional/limited Kitties by the seasons but that requires a level of organization that defies my current state of mind. However, Spring offers a couple of ways to get in some regional Kitties even though I might be stretching things a bit in terms of their relatedness...
Even though it isn’t officially Spring, I thought I’d get a move on it's first big festival, Doll’s Festival or Hina Matsuri. This festival is celebrated on March 3rd - a date that has not only seasonal importance but spiritual as well.
The history of the Doll’s Festival is a confusing mix of very old and very new-ish Japanese traditions. It’s a little like how westerners developed Christmas. In “old Japan” (were talking ‘BC-old’) purification rituals were very important. Talismans were used to either ward off or remove sickness and evil from families and to ensure a a good harvest. Dolls/figures were used often as those talismans. Some were worn or displayed in the home for protection. Others were used as surrogates (katashiro for a kind of purification sacrifice.
One of the earliest written records of dolls being used this kind of purification stand-in comes from Ise (Mie prefecture). In 4BC a shrine was built and dedicated to the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu… and yes, there is a Hello Kitty mascot for the Shrine!
The shrine dedicated to Amaterasu is one of over a hundred different shrines, all culminating in a Vatican-like complex known as Jingu. It is in this kind of place that you really come to understand that the Japanese, despite their focus on commercial industry, have a strong spiritual connection to nature. Like many early “island” cultures that relied on the land and surrounding waters for their survival, the Japanese believed that nature (trees, animals, bodies of water) held spiritual deities within them. The need to create harmony between man and nature resulted in the creation of these shrines, each honoring a different deity or kami. Offerings were made in these shrines to both thank the spirits and perhaps to appease them when people knew they may have done things that jeopardized the delicate balance between man and nature. If you’re a fan of Kurosawa and Miyazaki you will recognize these themes of nature and man at odds with one another.
To return to the history of the Hina Matsuri:
According to the temple records, a grass doll was made and blessed by the temple priestess, then thrown into the river Isuzu as a way to rid the people of evil and sickness.
Kitty either appears as Amaterasu or one of the many nature deities that the Jingu honors. Either way, she's too cute to cast off as evil!
During Heian Period (8th-12th centuries) these “purification” rituals involving some sort of disposable dolls became linked with the March 3rd date. According to customs inherited from China, the 3rd day of the 3rd month was considered the first day of the serpent - a day of “purification.” Shaman would transfer sins or evil from people into paper dolls. The “infected” dolls would then be sent away in a nearby river or burned. This tradition still remains in some form today in places like Wakayama, and Hiroshima as part of the Hina Matsuri festivities.
Genji Monogatari (a novel from the Heian Period) describes such a ritual when the main character has a shaman perform the purification ritual for him and has the dolls set out to sea… yes this was another shameless way of sneaking in another Regional Kitty!
Lady Murasaki Shikibu wrote Genji Monogatari or “The Tale of Genji” sometime in the early 11th century. It is thought to be the “first novel” ever, and it depicts the lives of the aristocrats of Heian Court. While it might seem unrelated to the Hina Matsuri, many of the dolls that we see today in traditional Hina Ningyou sets are modeled after the customs and costume of the Heian court.
Kitty appears in courtly dress of the period, perhaps identifying herself with the one of the novel's characters or perhaps Murasaki herself
Heian Influences: The princess doll or mebina that I bought when I was in Japan shows the typical Heian characteristics that are found on many types of Hina Matsuri dolls: the long flowing hair, the face partially hidden by the fan and those funky eyebrows. Back then, it was considered chic for women to shave and repaint eyebrows and to blacken their teeth.
Another characteristic borrowed from the Heian period is the juni hito’e or 12-layered kimono. Yep, another tricky way for me to stick in another regional kitty!
It was fashionable for the ladies of the court to wear 12 to 20 silk robes in layers and in special color combinations. These layers would be covered with a final coat or karaginu. They would be layered in such a way that this color array was visible only around the neck, sleeves and hem. I hear that this form of dress could weigh up to 35 pounds. No wonder the Heian ladies would rather stay at home and write very long novels.
How I wish there was a plushie for this beautiful version. Even in its tiny mascot form you can see how a real 12 layered kimono might appear.
By the Edo period (17th century) the March 3rd rituals and the dolls come together in what is now known as Hina Matsuri. The festival had moved away from the overriding theme of purification and seemed now to focus on the health, good fortune and good marriage of the girls of the family.
Okay, so there are the politically incorrect elements that still remain, but I think every girl should have the opportunity to have a girlie-girl day, and then be done with it. Growing up in the United States, my sisters and I didn’t celebrate Hina Matsuri, but every few years, my relatives would send little reminders of the event.
and example of the "imperial couple" given to me only a few years ago. I guess still strike people as a little kid!
Today, families with girls will celebrate this festival by setting up a display of a special set of dolls made just for this occasion. These displays can be simple, consisting of two dolls or can be very ornate with 15 or more dolls, plus accessories!
Throughout the display, peach blossoms play an important, decorative and symbolic role. The peach represents the coming of spring, fertility, longevity and marital happiness. It is also meant to symbolize the "ideal feminine characteristics": softness, mildness and peace. Read all the un PC inferences as you wish ^_^!!
Foods such as mochi or rice crackers are “offered” to the dolls – a throw-back to the purification rituals and I suppose a way for the aristocrats of the Edo period to hang on to these beautiful dolls. Offer them food to aid their daughters in a long and healthy life.
The Hina Ningyou Set
The main focus of the doll set is the “imperial couple” or dairasama on their wedding day.
Dear Daniel and Kitty White present one interpretation of the dairasama. Hina Nigyou sets can include 15 dolls AND accessories. When a set has just the imperial couple, it is called shinnou kazari. Even this simple Sanrio issue has an important accessory - the folded screen behind them or byoubu
Of course, the folks at Sanrio did not miss an opportunity to offer Kitty fanatics a wide range of doll sets. Again, some can be simple ceramic dolls, or very intricate, detailed works of art. I can't afford to even think of purchasing sets like these, but they are worth showing in terms of examples of what is possible if you're wealthy and just a little crazy for Kitties:
Daniel and Kitty look quite "imperial" in this $3000 shinnou kazari. Inbetween them is a stand with two vases that hold peach blossoms. It is called the sanpou kazari. Infront of both of them are hishimochi. The colors are meant to denote the seasonal changes (white for snow, green for summer and spring, and pink for the flowers of the changing season.)
In this toned down version, you can see the different kinds of accessories that are a part of any kind of Hina Ningyou set. Along with the beautiful paper laterns or bonbori, this set pays special attention to the sake set that will be used for the "wedding" ceremony
This full version is a wonderful interpretation of a traditional 15 doll set. It's funny to see how closely this Kitty set follows the traditional setting.
In the first row, is of course, Daniel and Kitty flanked by the bonbori. Daniel holds the traditional sceptre or shaku denoting his postion in the "Sanio Royal Court". Again, my latent feminist leanings would argue that he should hand over that shaku to Kitty. Well, Kitty is pretty calm about these things so she'll stick to hiding and looking demure behind her fan - also very traditional of the Heian period. In between them is the table and flower vases (sanpou kazari)
Second row: My Melody, Lala and Kathy are the three ladies of the court. They will help in the performing of a Shinto wedding ritual using sake and a special set of cups. This is known as san-san kudo. The cups are in a stack of three. My Melody will probably pour the sake into the first cup in three motions, and then the bride and groom will sip three times from each cup. They will do that with each cup turning those threes in to even luckier nines.
The small serving tables between the ladies of the court are called takasuki. Sweets or small rice crackers are place on these. In the full Kitty set, small white and pink mochi are place on these tables.
Pokopon, Pochacco, Kiki, Pekkle and Tabo are the court musicians or gonin bayashi.
Batz Maru and Hangyodon are the Ministers of the Left and Right, respectively. Behind them are the special serving stands holding the hishimochi. These are called the hishidai. The smaller table behind Hangyodon is called the kakebanzen. Its table with covered food bowls.
Monkichi, Pop Pom Purin and Keroppi are the prince’s footmen. They are also referred to as the “three drinkers” or sannin jougo. They are flanked by two trees, one a mandarin tree (probably meant to represent the longevity of the couple and the dynasty) and a flowering tree (peach, cherry or plum – each flower has its own nuance of symbolizing the nuptials and the change of seasons).