Happy Hina Matsuri Day!

Hina-matsuri is also called Girl’s Day and is quite a tradition in Japan on March 3rd, the third day of the third month. I first learned of this in an old childhood book I used to read and tell stories with for hours called The Children Come Running by Elizabeth Coatsworth, which was a UNICEF publication in 1960 with wonderful illustrations and stories. One of my sisters owned the book, but I managed to track down my own copy several years ago and purchase it. This is the delightful page I remember pouring over as a child, fascinated by the dolls.


Years later, I bought a reference book called Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo by Alan Scott Pate that has many examples of antique Hina-matsuri dolls that are exquisite. The folds of silk and tiny details astound one. There is a corresponding festival for boys called Gogatsu-no-sekku, Tango-no-sekku or Boy’s Day on May 5th.


Hina-matsuri involves a display of dolls representing the Japanese court and the imperial couple or lord and lady are “top couple” in the display. Attendant musicians and ladies-in-waiting, footmen, and similar people follow down the tiers of display and give you an eye into the history of society. The boy’s Gogatsu festival is more centred on military dolls and mythology if they use dolls at all these days.

I like this quote from Alan Pate’s book by Frederick Starr, who was an anthropologist connected to the University of Chicago, when he made these remarks in 1926:

“Suffice it to say that anyone who thinks of the doll’s festival as a play, or a display, for the amusement of little girls, is wide of the mark. It is a serious ceremonial, the significance of which deserves recognition.”

It is thought that spirits come down to inhabit the bodies of the dolls, and as they are welcomed into the home, they provide blessings and protection for the coming year. Hina is a contraction of a word that means small and lovely, or refers to a baby chick. The Japanese are well-known for their love of small things in arts and decoration. I imagine mothers and fathers enjoy using and remembering their own childhood festival dolls. It’s important in society to keep such traditions going amid the homogeny of global information and absorption I think.


Despite the ridicule of some people for adults collecting or making dolls, it is an old tradition in human history. Adult collectors ensure that societies do have memories of dolls and periods in costuming and crafting, plus they have creative fun. For instance, I have enjoyed researching the Inuit and their traditions, art, and crafts since I bought my Maplelea doll Saila. I also enjoyed picking up my knitting needles to complete some doll outfits and learn a few new techniques, plus sorting through bits of fabric from my quilting stash to sew for the doll.

I recently bought a paperback edition of a book that was published in 1927 called Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. It is still in copyright so you can’t get it free at Project Gutenberg, but there are many editions for sale on the secondary market. Most are facsimile editions, with reproductions of the original illustrations which are superb by themselves, but I bought an edition where the type had been redone because it was easier to read. The illustrations are still there too.

Here you can see Jumping Jack Joyce, with the same attitude toward intellectual exploration as Richard Feynman, discovering the joy of Hitty and introducing her to Homer’s Odyssey. A mutual and reciprocal bout of learning is always a good thing. Joycey looks forward to doing some sewing for dolls too.


You can see the original Hitty doll in a museum in Massachusetts. Many people today carve their own, or make them in polymer clay and cloth. I was truly interested in all the little clothing patterns and kits for furniture and all the miniature quilts people make for their reproductions of this doll. One of the ladies whose blog I read has several Hitty dolls and she spent hours sewing them all the most beautiful kimonos, a gesture which reminds me so much of Hina-matsuri.

A former friend of mine has what I think is a carved and painted reproduction Hitty that belonged to her father. The doll was undressed so I offered to make her some clothes about 21 years ago when I was visiting, and took measurements so that when I came back home to a different town I could made the doll a dress and pantaloons and mail them back to her. I still remember my friend and I taking her doll into the quilt shop to find the perfect fabric for the doll. I’m very insistent on good colours for dolls, as the right colour can make a doll come alive. I was dressing this dolly from afar, so unfortunately the pantaloons with the feather stitching were a bit snug, but as far as I know the dress was fine. She never sent me a picture though.

One day I hope to get a little Hitty to dress. She is the perfect size for my Maplelea doll Saila, who seems to have developed an interest in dolls, and doll couture. Now there’s a smart little girl, knowing how to expand her horizons and learn of the rich possibilities of life.

Her little sister Poppy has a very firm opinion on the Festival of the Dolls…




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