Happy Girl's Day

Last year was the first time in 18 years that I forgot to put up the Ohinasan. We were just coming down from the frenzy of college application deadlines. My mother was having a hip replacement on March 2, so much time was spent driving to and from the hospital, and no one was in the mood to partake in the ritual of unpacking the twelve dolls and assembling the wooden dais. Once I realized I had missed March 3, I guiltily decided to let the dolls slumber for another year in their acid free tissue.

It is my contention that the time from January 1 to April 5 (my birthday) passes faster than the rest of the months of the year. Nearly every day in January is someone’s birthday in my family, and then you have the shortest month. This year was no exception, but there was the added stress of trying to curate and install an exhibition (albeit small) in 21 days. So when I realized last night (really this morning because I went to bed at 1:00 am) that it was Girl’s Day again, I was determined to get up early and set the dolls up – even if it meant being late for work.

For those of you who have no idea of what I am talking about, March 3 in Japan is designated as Hinamatsuri, or the Doll’s Festival. Sometimes it is referred to as Momo-no-Sekku (Peach Blossom Festival) or Girl’s Day (as opposed to May 5 which was known as Boy’s Day when they fly carp kites in celebration). What started out as a Chinese custom of transferring one’s woes to straw dolls and sailing them down a river (away from you) developed into a celebration centered around an elaborate set of dolls representing the Japanese Imperial court. The future of the daughters in the house were attached to the ceremonies and rituals surrounding the display of these dolls once a year. Tea parties involving fancy food preparation were part of a young girl’s training. Superstitions arose from how one honored the dolls. In some regions, keeping the display up longer than three days, meant the daughter(s) of the house would never marry. In other areas, keeping the display up for a month was insurance of marital bliss.

In our family, we had a fairly modest set that was given to my mother at birth. When I was old enough to research such things (and after seeing Shirley Temple’s set at the Museum of Science and Industry) I realized that we seemed to be missing several of the beautiful accessories that are part of the display – lacquered dishes, a palanquin, an orange and peach tree, and two lanterns. Also missing were several musical instruments, the Imperial crowns, and one samurai sword. When I asked my mother about this, she said that she did have all the accessories, but when her family was being sent to one of America’s concentration camps during World War II, her mother threw anything that was overtly symbolic of Japan in the trash. This included the Ohinasan. Fortunately a non-Japanese neighbor witnessed this event and rescued most of the pieces and saved them until my mother’s family returned from Manzanar years later. I later learned that this was the fate of many a Hina doll set belonging to Japanese American families during the war. Some people only threw out the two figures representing the Imperial couple, so many sets are missing those two dolls.

My siblings and I were a little less than reverent when it came to the Ohinasan. While we enjoyed unpacking the mothball scented toys and setting up the lacquered palace, it was not unusual for my mother to walk in and find that we had switched heads around (having discovered that the tiny wooden heads were easy to remove and replace) putting the old bearded samurai head on one of the ladies-in-waiting or something equally hilarious.

As I grew older and more respectful I started to search for replacement parts, but the set was old and of an unusual scale so it was difficult. Over the years my brother and husband have fashioned small instruments and a new sword for the musicians and samurai. I found a crown for sale in a gift store that had old stock. It is a tad ostentatious for the Empress, since it is of a larger scale, but I don’t think she minds much. When LATDA has its first Hinamatsuri exhibit, you can judge for yourself.