Seasonal Calendar of March

In this 'Seasonal Calendar', I would like to introduce traditional Japanese seasonal events, which come down to Japanese's modern life for the time being.

This Season's Traditional Events

On March 3rd, a traditional Japanese event called Hinamatsuri ( Doll Festival or Girls' Day ) is celebrated througout the country. This month's pick up would be Hinamatsuri.

What's Hinamatsuri?


Hinamatsuri, also well known as Momo-no-Sekku ( Peach Festival ) in Japan, annually takes place on March 3rd celebrating the safe growth and sound health of young girls. In homes, elegant dolls called Hina-ningyou ( literally, Hina dolls ) dressed in ancient court cotumes of the Heian Period (794-1185), are often diplayed on a five or seven-tiered stand, covered with a scarlet carpet.

In addition to the graceful set of Hina-ningyous, Momo-no-Hana ( peach blossoms ) are usually decorated as a seasonal flower, which is the reason for this traditional event being known throughout Japan, also as the Momo-no-Sekku ( Peach Festival ).

Little girls would surely be more than excited when they see these diplayed set of dolls to bring up the Hinamatsuri atmosphere, though they find out to their disappointment, that the beautiful dolls and the elaborately made miniature dishes and furnitures, are not meant for them to play house with. Instead, they can lick their lips over customary drinks and sweets, such as Amazake or Shirozake ( sweet non-alcoholic Sake made from fermented rice ), Hishimochi ( diamond-shaped rice cakes ), or Hina-arare ( bite-sized roasted rice cakes ) on this Girls' Day.

The Origin of Hinamatsuri

It is said that the Japanese tradition of Hinamatsuri, derived from Joushi-no-Sekku ( literally, a Sekku day that falls on a snake day at the beginning of lunar March ), one of the Go-Sekku ( literally, five Sekku days ) established during Edo Period (1603-1868) as official festive days to hold traditional events.

The Go-Sekku is said to have developed from Go-Sechie ( five days of seasonal turning points to hold festive events or rituals ) practiced at Court before Edo Period (1603-1868), which were based on the ancient Chinese thoughts and customs brought in to Japan during 5th to 6th century. So in other words, the origin of this custom of Japanese Hinamatsuri, could be said that it dates all the way back to ancient China.

A Custom Originating From China

In ancient China, it is told that there was a custom for people to go into the river, to purify themselves on the first snake day that comes at the beginning of lunar March ( calendars corresponded to Oriental zodiac animals as well as several other things such as time, year and direction ). This custom is said to have derived from a Yao ( an ethnic minority hill tribe originating in southern China ) tribal custom, a festival of spring worship in southern and southwestern China.

The Yao custom of this spring festival, is told to worship dead females along the riverside on the 3rd day of the 3rd month of the lunar year ( originally said to be held on the first snake day of lunar March though later determined as March 3rd ). Later, this Yao tribal custom is said to have been incorporated by Confucian scholars, with another custom of nomadic Turks from central Asia, who celebrated the beginning of the spring season with field outings and picnics.

Resultingly, the two ethnic customs combined togeher became a custom called Taqing, and on this day of lunar March 3rd, it is said that the Chinese people came to trod on green grass on the riverside, picked orchids, purifyed themselves in the river, and then shared drinks together.

This Chinese custom gradually became simplified turning into just a waterside outdoor spring amusement, with dressed up people eating and drinking near the water. By the time the Jin Dynasty (A.D.280-A.D.316) arose ( well, Japan was still just beginning to take form as a country around this time ... ), the worshipful atmosphere of the original ethnic custom are said to have been mostly gone.

The Earliest Shape of Hinamatsuri

When the developed thoughts and customs of China were brought into Japan somewhere between the 5th and 6th century, court nobles followed in their steps and came to hold Kyokusui-no En ( literally, banquet at a meandering creek ) on lunar March 3rd. Stories are told that one of the Chinese Emperors before the Qin Dynasty (B.C.221-B.C.202), threw his drinking cup into the river during the spring party of Taqing. After this historical event was introduced to Japan, it seems that it played a large part in forming the Japanese Court tradition of Kyokusui-no-En ( literally, banquet at a meandering creek ), probably the most earliest shape of Hinamatsuri.

Occasions for this spring party is said to have increased especially during Heian Period (794-1185), when they were held more than twice a year disregarding the season or the date. The Kyokusui-no En still annually held twice a year today on April 29th and November 3rd in Jounangu ( located in Fushimi-ward, Kyoto ), is said to be what's left of the Heian Court customs.

The Appearance of Paper Dolls

While court nobles enjoyed the banquet of Kyokusui-no-En, introducing the poems which they had made earlier within the short period of time, before the drinking cup drifted past their seats when they were out on the side of a meandering creek, artificially made inside the palace garden, their daughters amused themselves playing house with a paper doll's set.

During Heian Period (794-1185), playing house with a set of paper dolls containing miniature paper furnitures or a miniature paper palace, became popular among young girls from noble families. This was called Hiina-Asobi ( literally, playing with Hiina ), since Hiina meant 'something small and cute' in those days.

On the other hand, there was a certain belief in Japan from ancient times, that dolls would protect their owners from meeting misfortune on their behalf. Paper dolls called Hitogata ( literally, human shape ) or Katashiro ( literally, form of replacement ) were used to stroke one's body with it, to turn over their impurities onto it, then throw them into rivers or the sea to let it carry away the impurities which were thought to bring misfortune. This custom was called Nademono ( literally, things to stroke with ).

When the Hiina-Asobi gained attraction at Court, the custom of Nademono seems to have got linked to it, in the sense that it also used paper dolls. And having the background of the Chinese custom of Taqing represented by the Kyokusui-no-En, it grows into a waterside event of Nagashi-bina ( literally, throwing Hina dolls into rivers or the sea ). Today we can still see the traces of it in the shrine ritual of Hina-nagashi, annually held on March 3rd at Awashima shrine ( Wakayama prefecture ), to throw in used or damaged Hina-ningyous ( Hina dolls ) into the sea.

The Development of Hina-ningyou (Hina Dolls)

In addition to the Nademono custom, there was another custom before the Chinese culture was introduced to Japan, to prepare cloth-made dolls called Houko ( literally, crawling child ) or Amagatsu ( literally, child from heaven ) whenever a child was born, in order to take over all the sickness or misfortune that befell to the child.

These cloth-made dolls were originally meant to be as a good luck talisman, though with the trend of Hiina-Asobi in Heian Period (794-1185), it didn't seem to take much time for the paper dolls to be replaced by these cloth-made dolls. Perhaps it could even be said a natural evolution for the paper dolls used in Hiina Asobi, to meet the cloth-made dolls of Houko or Amagatsu, to accomplish some changes into a more three-dimensional form.

However, with paper dolls developing into a more firm style, the custom of Nagashi-bina seems that it has faded into wallpaper, since paper became less used as a material to make dolls and that made it difficult to throw them in the river or the sea. By the time Muromachi Period (1338-1573) came around, the dolls were not to be thrown into the river or the sea but to be displayed inside houses, inheriting the style of how Houko or Amagatsu were treated.

The Establishment of Hinamatsuri

When the troublous times of warfare was over and peace came back to Japan in Edo Period (1603-1868), the Court practice of Kyokusui-no-En based on the imported Chinese custom of Taqing, joined together with the Japan originated customs of Nademono, Houko or Amagatsu and Hiina-Asobi, expands into a glittering festival for females. In1629, a huge feast of Hinamatsuri is told to have took place at the Old Imperial Palace in Kyoto, which must have triggered the Edo government to hold this event officially from that time on.

As the Edo government established March 3rd as Joushi-no-Sekku, one of the five Sekku days ( official holidays ) to hold fetsive events, this spring custom spreads gradually but widely from the nobles to the general people, from cities to the rural areas. Especially in the farm communities, it becomes a good opportunity for outings near the water, digging and gathering clams at the beach and enjoying themselves by the waterside, due to the fact that the date almost always corresponded to that of spring tide.

The custom of going clamming on this festive day, perhaps can be thought as the heritage of the ancient Chinese custom of spring outings near the water, but to farmers it became an important day to restore their energy and spirit before the hard farmwork that lay ahead. Even today, there are still places in Japan that has a custom to celebrate Hinamatsuri with clam dishes.

By the middle of Edo Period (1603-1868), the style of Hinamatsuri becomes established with Hina-ningyous ( Hina dolls ) ending up in well-attired court costumes displayed on a tier, a style close to the one that we know today. It was also given an additional role during this time, as to celebrate the birth of girls, not only as a festival for females. Although the Sekku events were once abolished after the Meiji Restoration (1867), Hinamatsuri was handed down from generation to genration as Japanese's traditional heritage.

Hinamatsuri and Momo-no-Hana (Peach Blossoms)

Momo-no-Hana ( peach blossoms ) are one of the essential items for Hinamatsuri decorations, making this event well known throughout the country also as Momo-no-Sekku ( Peach Festival ). Usually, they hit the flower shops by the end of February just before the Hinamatsuri season, but in fact those that are sold around this time of year in flower shops, are said to be grown under glass. The Momo-no-Hana ( peach blossoms ) grown outdoors are said to flower generally, from around the middle of March to mid-April.

Some botanical books has it that Momo-no-Hana ( peach blossoms ) has been cultivated in Japan since Joumon Period ( around 7000 B.C.-around 250 B.C. ), and when the flower season of Momo-no-Hana ( peach blossoms ) is applied to the lunisolar calendar, it comes around the beginning of lunar March. This may be thought as one of the reasons for Momo-no-Hana to be linked with the event of Hinamatsuri.

Additionally, the Kanji ( or Hanji ) character that represents the word Momo ( peach ), might give us another reason. The Kanji character used to express Momo ( peach ), consists of two different characters that represents the meaning respectively, of 'tree' and 'sign'. It is told that in ancient China where the Kanji Characters originally come from, the partial character that represented the meaning of 'sign', also had the meaning of 'prospect of someone's pregnancy'.

Moreover, according to the ancient Chinese thoughts that were imported to Japan, Momo ( peaches ) were thought to be sacred trees with a special power to ward off evil spirits. As for legends, Chinese legends has it that Xi Wangmu ( Mother queen of the west ), who was the owner of a peach tree that were told to bear fruit only once in every 3,000 years, was born on March 3rd. Regarding these reasons all together, it seems to prove how important Momo-no-Hana ( peach blossoms ) is as a decoration of Hinamatsuri, as well as its strong relationship between this girl's event. By the way, I wonder how good a peach from a tree that bears its fruit only once in 3,000 years would taste like ... .

Last Modified March 30th, 2007

Site of Reference

Hinamatsuri (Doll's Festival) Part 1- Hina-ningyo ( English )


Hinamatsuri (Doll's Festival) Part 2 - Hinamatsuri Song ( English )


Hinamatsuri - Wikipedia ( English )


Qingming Festival - Wikipedia ( English )


Japanophile>> Dolls Festival ( English, French and Japanese version availabele for some articles )


Qingming Festival Summary ( English )


Tribes ( English )


Susanowo to Nigihayahi no Nihonn-gaku ( Japanese )


Susanowo to Nigihayahi no Nihonn-gaku ( Japanese )


Sangatsu - Ohinasan ( Japanese )

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Dentougyouji - Momo-no-Sekku ( Japanese )