On the 3rd of March, Japan celebrates Hina Matsuri, the Girls’/Doll Festival (not a national holiday), while some places in April according to the lunar calendar.
The festival has a long and curious history, but today, it is held in order to pray for a happy and healthy life for one’s daughter.
The first sekku (seasonal festival) after the birth of a baby girl — it is a day when charming dolls are set out for display to symbolize the family’s wish that their daughter will be healthy, free from calamity and able to obtain a happy life with a good husband. Also called the Peach Festival or Momo no Sekku, as March is the season when peach flowers are in bloom.
(reference: http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/hina-matsuri-dolls.html )
Hina Matsuri Dolls
The “hina dolls” ( hina ningyo) are only displayed when a family has a daughter. Usually a set is handed down from generation to generation or the grandparents or parents will buy one for a girl’s first Hina Matsuri (hatsuzekku)! A complete set with traditional dolls can be extremely expensive! There is a superstition that the daughter of the house will have a hard time finding a marriage partner if the dolls aren’t put away in the evening of March 3rd!
Beautiful costumes of the HeianPeriod are worn by the hina dolls, representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians. They are displayed on a stand (hinadan) that is often covered with a red carpet. The platform can have several levels (up to 7). The most common ones are one-, five- and seven-tiered stands.
Depending on the region, the order of the dolls from left to right is different, but the order per level is the same. One example where you’ll find this difference in placement is with the Kanto and Kansai regions.
On the top-tier you’ll find the imperial dolls (dairi bina). They represent the Emperor who is holding a ritual baton and the Empress with a fan in her hands. The Empress is not wearing a mere kimono, but a costume called “juuni-hitoe” (twelve-layered ceremonial robe). The Royal family in Japan wears it during wedding ceremonies even nowadays. Traditionally the emperor was set up on the right from the viewer’s perspective, but in a modern display he’s sitting on the left.
The hina dolls are usually put in front of a folding screen (byoubu). These folding screens are very common in Japan for any type of decoration. They’re often also used to display the zodiac of the current year. Most of the time there are also lamp stands (bonbori) decorated with plum blossoms (ume) or cherry blossoms (sakura) representing the spring season.
This is the spot for the three court ladies (sannin kanjo) who’re all holding sake equipment. Placed between them are stands with round table-tops with seasonal sweets on top.
A total number of five male musicians (gonin bayashi) is displayed on the third tier. Apart from the singer who has a fan in his hand, all of them hold a musical instrument.
So I prepared Odairi-sama and Ohina-sama shaped wagashi, and (real) peach blossoms for today. The couple, made of nerikiri, are wrapped with a slice of kimono-shaped yohkan, a thick, jellied Japanese confection made from bean paste and sugar.