Today, March 3rd, is Girls' Day in Japan. It's also called Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival).
Those who have sets of Hina Dolls display them in their homes on a platforms - in steps - and the steps are covered with a red cloth. The dolls are called hina-ningyoh. They represent the Emporer, the Emporess, and their attendants. The dolls are typically dressed in traditional royal court dress replicant of Japan's Heian period, which is when the practice of displaying these dolls started.
In those days people believed the dolls possessed the power to protect against bad spirits.
The stores in Tokyo were quite crowded today as people went about buying some of the traditional foods and snacks served on this day. For example, colored hina arare, which are small crackers flavored with sugar or soy sauce and and hishimochi, a diamond-shaped colored rice cake. People also eat Chirashizushi (sushi rice flavored with sugar, vinegar, and topped with raw fish and other ingredients).
A soup called ushiojiru containing hamaguri (clams) in the shell is also served. Clam shells in food are deemed the symbol of a united and peaceful couple, because a pair of clam shells fits perfectly, and no pair but the original pair can do so.
Families generally start to display the dolls in February and take them down immediately after the festival. A Japanese superstition says that leaving the dolls on display past March 4 will result in a late marriage for daughters in the family.
This day is also called momo no sekku (Peach Festival)" because of the peach blossom season on the old lunar calendar. In fact, I bought branches of peach blossoms for my wife today so we can display them in our home.
When our girls were small, and living at home, my wife and our daughters would enjoy taking the dolls from their storage boxes each year and arranging them on their special stand. My wife still displays the dolls, but in a smaller fashion, as well as decorating with the peach blossom branches.
You can buy your own set of hina dolls in most department stores in Japan or in any of the stores that specialize in ningyo (dolls). A traditional set of dolls can be very expensive. There are various grades for the sets, and some full sets will set you back a pretty yen as they cost more than a million yen (US$12,000). Of course, there are much cheaper sets, and even some made of paper, but those won't - naturally - last very long. And, you can buy a royal couple only version, with only the Emperor and the Empress dolls.
Of course, the boys have their day too. Well, at least it used to be called boys' day, but not it has become children's day - that's coming up May 5th. I'll write more about that when the time comes.
Meanwhile - happy Dolls Day! And, here is a picture of a full 7 tiered set of the dolls.