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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, March 1, 2002

Celebration rich in history

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

Fifteen centuries of Japanese rituals and festivals involving dolls evolved into hina matsuri or the dolls festival, which is celebrated in Hawai'i and outside Japan as Girls' Day.

Since the Tokugawa period of the 18th century, the event has been celebrated on March 3 by displaying ceremonial dolls made of porcelain, cloth or wood. There are two types: the individual kimono-clad doll in a glass case or a traditional set of 15 dolls depicting a royal court scene on a five-tier structure.

The festival began with the Japanese custom of giving ceremonial dolls to first-born baby girls and the passing of dolls from mothers to daughters.

The annual celebration encompasses the Japanese respect for artistry and patience in creating the dainty and delicate dolls that are supposed to reflect order, tradition, loyalty, the family unit, grace and serenity — all desired qualities of womanhood in traditional Japan.

"Tradition is that girls become the backbone of the family," said Robert Iida, owner of Iida's at Ala Moana Center, which is celebrating its 102nd year of business in Hawai'i this month. "The original meaning (of giving ceremonial dolls to first-born baby girls) referred to young and old generations living together and getting along in a family home. The Tokugawa leaders, who achieved 300 years of peace in the country, believed the root of peace is in the family."

"The dolls are not toys for girls to play with," said Big Island native Naomi Omizo, chair of the Punahou School Language Department. "They are meant to be decorative."

A traditional set of hina matsuri royal court dolls, clothed in brocaded garments reflecting the Heian period, 794-1185 A.D., is displayed on a tiered structure of five to seven steps called a hinadan. A complete set today could cost $100 to $5,000.

Two main dolls at the top tier represent either the emperor and empress or a prince and princess. From the position of someone looking at the top tier, the male figure is always at left and the female on the right.

On the second tier are three ladies in waiting. From left to right, proper placement has the figure holding a short sake server at left, the doll with the sake cup in the middle and the lady with the long-handled sake server on the right. The three dolls represent different stages of life from youth to old age.

The third tier from the top consists of five musicians. The taiko drum player is at the far left. Next to him are musicians with a lap drum, shoulder drum and flute. A singer is stationed at the far right. The set can also consists of musicians with a gong, standing drum, mouth organ, oboe and flute, from left to right.

Two retainers — an old man on the right and young man on the left — make up the fourth tier. Diamond-shaped hishi mochi (rice cakes) or hishi kashi (candy) are displayed on serving trays between the two men.

The fifth tier features three male servants with facial expressions depicting different moods. The one who is laughing is seated at left, on the opposite end of the angry man, with the crying man positioned between them.

There can be a sixth and seventh tier to show the royal couple's paraphernalia, such as mirrors, drawers, dressing tables and a carriage. A cherry tree and orange tree are displayed on the lowest level.

Large kimono-clad dolls encased in glass display boxes were popular among Japanese immigrant families in Hawai'i because they were more affordable than court sets. Today, there are less expensive alternatives to even the individual kimono-clad dolls.

Iida, for example, sells hanakko or flower dolls for less than $10. Each doll features a flower representing the birth month of a girl — pheasant's eye (January), plum (February), camellia (March), cherry blossom (April), peony (May), iris (June), hydrangea (July), morning glory (August), bell flower (September), maple (October), chrysanthemum (November) and narcissus (December).

Diamond-shaped hishi-mochi and hishi-kashi are among the food dishes traditionally associated with Girls' Day. The shape of the confections represent a medicinal leaf that was believed to give long life to the eater. The rice cakes and candies come in three colors — white for purity and the snows of winter; light red or pink for femininity and the flowers of spring; and green for the warmth and freshness of summer. The missing season is meant to represent no autumn in the girls' life.

Other traditional foods are umani, a dish of cooked carrots, lotus (hasu), burdock (gobo), dasheen, yam cake (konyaku) and bamboo shoots with deboned chicken, and sekihan, which is steamed rice with azuki or red beans.

Boys' Day or tango no sekku, which is now celebrated in Japan as Children's Day, is May 5.