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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 1, 2002

Hawai'i families preserve tradition of Girls' Day with Japanese heirlooms

• Celebration rich in history
• You can make your own origami empress doll

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

Margaret Murakami sets up a tiered royal court doll set her late aunt acquired while teaching in Hawai'i from 1928 to 1941. A young male retainer, shown above with a serving tray, is one of two retainers standing on a fourth tier.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

'Girls' Day Festival Hina Matsuri'

11 a.m. Sunday, Japanese Cultural Center



Hands-on activities include origami, seal-engraving, calligraphy and kumihimo (Japanese cord braiding). Royal court doll sets and ningyo doll collections will be available for photographs.

Entertainment will be provided by Kilauea Minbu Kai's minyo dancers, Urata Music Studio solo vocalists, the Japanese Women's Chorus and Atsuko Nonaka playing the shamisen. Food and souvenirs will be for sale.

With her two daughters attending school on the Mainland, Ellen Arakawa has not displayed the family's traditional five-tier royal court doll set on Girls' Day for several years.

"But they're expecting to be remembered on Girls' Day with some kind of memento," Arakawa said of her daughters, Shelley, 27, and Lauren, 20. "In Hawai'i, we have a lot of special Girls' Day confections, like kokeshi doll candies and colored arare (rice crackers). That's what they want."

Girls' Day on March 3 — called Hina Matsuri (dolls festival) in Japan — is recognized as a tradition by Hawai'i residents of Japanese and

Okinawan ancestry, but is celebrated very loosely, if at all. Kimono-clad dolls are still popular baby gifts for girls, but few here are willing to pay several hundred dollars or more for a high-quality 15-doll court set.

Many families who have complete sets no longer display them regularly if there are no young girls around. Most sets are handed down from mother to daughter as heirlooms.

"It's more nostalgic, a remembrance," Arakawa said of Girls' Day.

The cultural celebration takes on greater meaning for Hanako Ozawa, a 94-year-old, first-generation immigrant in Manoa, because of the hardships she has been through.

On Dec. 7, 1941, when Ozawa and her husband were living in a Zen Buddhist camp on Kaua'i, Ozawa and her family threw out everything that looked Japanese, she remembers, including the family's heirloom doll collection, which was dumped in a nearby gulch. The family was sent to internment camps on the Mainland before returning to Hawai'i after World War II.

Ozawa, a retired Japanese language teacher, will celebrate the day by giving trinkets to her great-granddaughters and going to the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii to answer questions about the culture.

It's a holiday for children, she said, but it's also meaningful to families who have lived to see Japanese traditions no longer shunned in America.

"I feel that Girls' Day was originated to teach about womanly characteristics, like gentleness," she said, "and to strengthen women's values."

Carolynn Bell, a Caucasian who teaches Japanese at Liholiho Elementary School in Kaimuki, moved from Manoa to Minneapolis at age 8 and spent a year in Japan in 1985, when she was 18, on a Rotary International Scholarship. She described Girls' Day in Hawai'i as a "watered-down version" of Hina Matsuri in Japan.

"I had four different host families, and each invited me to see their doll sets," said Bell, who recently moved back to Hawai'i from the Mainland. "I was struck by the beauty and tradition of Hina Matsuri. It's a tribute to girls I never expected from an Asian culture where boys are revered more. I want to relay that feeling to my students so they can understand and appreciate the customs and traditions of Japan."

In the days leading up to Girls' Day, Bell plans to have her students check out a Web site showing doll displays in Japan. Her students also will make origami dolls.

Preserving the meaning of traditions such as Girls' Day is more important to 52-year-old Hokkaido native Nobuko Izumi than how it's practiced.

"I use Girls' and Boys' Day activities to teach tradition and customs as part of language teachings," said Izumi, lead instructor of Maukalani Elementary's after-school Japanese language school in Makakilo. "People today are busy and live apart from their families. Before, two or three generations of a family lived in one house. So we lose customs and traditions. Also, dolls cost money. (They're) not cheap."

Carolynn Bell, a Japanese language teacher at Liholiho Elementary School, tells students about the tiered royal court doll set commonly displayed by local Japanese families on Girls' Day.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Izumi, who has lived in Hawai'i for 20 years, said Hina Matsuri was not that big a thing in her family's home district. "Same as Hawai'i, Hokkaido's history is young, maybe seven generations," said Izumi, whose grandparents were refugees from Russia who settled in Hokkaido. "We do different celebration, not many dolls. What I learn about custom, I learned in school, not from my mother. So a lot is lost."

With her 30 students, kindergarten through sixth grade, Izumi plans to show Internet photos of doll sets that will be on display at the Tokugawa Museum in Nagoya and the National Museum in Kyoto. The students also will make origami dolls and do calligraphy for Girls' Day.

Hiromi Peterson, a Japanese language teacher at Punahou, will be taking students to the home of Norie Masamitsu, daughter of auto tycoon Soichiro Honda, for the 13th consecutive year. Jean Sakihara, a kimono expert, dresses the students in kimonos. Masamitsu will have her doll collection set up this year because the visit will coincide with Girls' Day.

Peterson, who has lived in Hawai'i for 31 years, does not recall anything special about Hina Matsuri while growing up in Hiroshima. "I think here we give dolls and stuffed animals to girl babies, but not so much in Japan," she said. "It is mostly passed down in families.

"It's nice to preserve traditions like the dolls and kimonos, but modern society always changes to the style of its locale. Life is like that."

Naomi Omizo, chairwoman of the Punahou Language Department, is from Volcano, on the Big Island. Her parents gave her individual kimono-clad dolls in glass cases but did not celebrate Girls' Day with anything more than candy gifts.

"Like a lot of things, it got localized," Omizo said. "But I think traditions are worth preserving, even if they may not always be in the purest form. "

Omizo said Girls' Day traditions were followed more closely while her grandmother was alive. Omizo's glass-case collection is displayed all year, so it's nothing special for her own kindergarten-age daughter.

The former Margaret McElmury of Winona, Minn., wife of retired dentist Kenneth Murakami of Manoa, puts up her complete court set each Girls' Day, although she said she knows nothing about the tradition associated with the event.

Her late aunt, Elizabeth Millam, acquired the set in Hawai'i while teaching here from 1928 to 1941. When Millam died, the set was found in a steamer trunk in the basement of her home and sent to Margaret Murakami.

"Her brother figured I was living in Hawai'i and would know what to do with it," she said. "What I see is the intricate beauty of it, the work that went into making it. When I put it out, I always think about Hawai'i and why my aunt bought it and never showed it to the family."

She plans to pass the set on to one of her granddaughters who lives in Hawai'i.

Advertiser staff writer Tanya Bricking contributed to this report. Reach Rod Ohira at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8181.

CORRECTION: Hanako Ozawa, a 94-year-old, first-generation immigrant, described how she and her family threw out things that were Japanese, including a doll collection, after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. An earlier version of the story had other information.