Japanese Calendar Holidays & Festivals

Dolls Festival  (hina matsuri)  National Celebration


T.T., Mar.91 -- What A Doll! -- The Dolls Festival (hinamatsuri)

Hey Barbie, get outta town! If you like beautiful dolls (and who doesn't) then you don't want to miss the Dolls Festival (Hina Matsuri) on March 3rd.. This is an annual holiday especially for girls. In the weeks prior, shops and department stores all over the country will feature prominent displays of finely attired Japanese court figures in antique costumes, dolls that cost so much they'd make your apartment key money deposit look like the after Christmas bargain-basement sale price of a "Ken's Mr. T-look-alike accessory packet".

As girls grow up they are traditionally furnished with this set of 15 display-only dolls. Often the Set is completed one doll a year, but a girl may also be given her mother's or grandmother's heirloom set. The figures are carefully arranged and displayed in the home to friends and family on March 3rd. The emperor and empress take the top shelf, followed below by three ladies-in-waiting, then five musicians, two government ministers, and lastly, three servants. The Dolls' Festival originated in ancient times and survives today as a family occasion where young daughters dress in their finest Kimonos and attend parties just for them. If you have Japanese friends with small children perhaps you can visit on that day and join in admiring their daughter's proud collection of imperial figures. if not, amble on through a department store or two before the festival day and notice the variety and detail.

T.T., Mar.92 -- All Dolled Up

Lucky things come in 3's, they say. And this festival is no exception. There are several annual festivals and celebrations in Japan just for children. And the "Dolls' Festival" is the first one. Every year it lands on: 3-3, i.e. March 3rd. This year the third is a Tuesday.

Though this date is not a national holiday it is an important occasion which will be celebrated in homes throughout Japan. A set of 15 dolls (display only) will be carefully unwrapped and set-up in a special place in the home, particularly one with a young daughter. These sets can be very expensive and are passed down from generation to generation. If a home has the entire set and displays them on the 5 tiered shelves, the l5 dolls will be arranged with the emperor and empress on top, followed below by three-ladies-in-waiting, then five musicians, then two government ministers, and finally, three servants on the bottom shelf. When the children get older some families only unwrap and display the emperor and empress dolls. The rest are carefully stored for the benefit of future grandchildren.

In the weeks before March 3rd, large department stores will place elaborate doll displays in their windows. And specialty stores throughout the country will sell detailed finely-crafted sets to young couples with their children in tow. And if you have Japanese friends maybe you will be able to see their set and admire them along with their young daughter, particularly on the 3rd, when it is common for friends and other children to come and view them.

T.T., Mar.93 -- DOLL-icious Festival

The Doll Festival is an annual celebration for small girls. It will be held on March 3rd (Wednesday) this year. If you have some Japanese friends with small children you may wish to view some of the (family) festivities. The Doll's Festival revolves around a set of 15 miniature dolls which are only for looking at - not for playing with. These dolls can be very expensive and usually a young girl either inherits an heirloom set or receives one or two a year till the set is completed. They are a prized set, displayed on five tiered shelves. The emperor and empress sit on top, below are three ladies-in-waiting, then five musicians, two government ministers, and lastly by three servants. In the weeks prior major department stores will display these elaborately costumed figures. The Doll Festival (for girls) is the counterpart to Boys' Day (a.k.a. Children's Festival) held on May 5th. (Paul Abramson)

T.T., Mar.91 -- Hot To Trot

Don't get cold feet about this festival. On March 10th, near the National Science Museum at Mt. Takao, local Buddhist priest will lead a demonstration of fire-walking across smoldering embers. Yes, that's right, fire-walking. Now if you're one of those pussyfooted soles who's been complaining about the chilly weather - this is a hot idea that will definitely warm your toes. The priests get the procession started but then invite the sizeable crowd of spectators to follow them on across.

The Fire Festival (Hiwatari Matsuri) Wil begin about 1:00pm, but you should plan to arrive early to get a good view, especially if you've never before seen people willing to go to such extremes for permanent corn and bunion removal.

To get to the Fire Festival at Mt. Takao, take either the Keio Line (West) to Takaosanguchi Station (about 50 minutes west from Shinjuku), or take the JR Chuo Line (West) to Takao, then change to the Keio Line; one stop to Takaosanguchi. The site is only five minutes from the station, next to the National Science Museum (ShinzenKagakuHakubutsukan). (in all probability if you arrive at Takaosanguchi and follow the crowd you'll find it easily. Or say: "Sumimasen. Hiwatari matsuri ni ikitai desu). (By Paul Abramson)

T.T., Mar.92 -- All Fired Up

This festival is for those of you who want to warm your feet after the cold winter - a fire walking festival! On Sunday, March 8th, starting at 1 PM, Buddhist priests will lead this special annual ceremony. The festival will be held near Mt. Takao, by the National Science Museum. This is located about 50 minutes west of Shinjuku and it will probably still be chilly on these lower slopes, so your Mother called and asked Tokyo Today to remind you to dress warmly, particularly if you'll be arriving early to beat the crowds. (This editor went to the fire walking festival last year - and it was packed, so do go early to get a good view.)

At 1 PM there will be a drum beating chorus, followed by a long procession of Buddhist priests in their finest silk robes. In the center of the field will be a large wooden frame covered with tinder. After readings, chants, and other ritual activities the priests will collect special prayer "sticks" from persons who want their wishes added to the ceremony. These too will be liberally spread over the large (about 10 meters square - it ain't small!) center grounds. Finally the fire will be lit - soon producing hot tall flames which will really heat up even the front rows of spectators, though ropes keep the people back. Watch out for falling embers if you're up front!

The 15-20 minutes of fire produces some nice warm coals. After the priests boldly walk across, spectators are invited to follow. Though the initial reaction is to hold back the line will quickly get very long, so if you want to participate (need any corns or bunions removed?) hustle on over to the back where the priests started from. There are four salt piles, one at the beginning and end of each of the two lines. You carry your shoes and socks, stand in the salt for a moment (i.e. try to get some stuck onto your feet) then stride on across. A few people begin speeding up near the end or hop on across the coals, but not you. Smile, saunter, and have your friend get in good position on the side - camera at the ready. Your Mother ( ... who asked us to remind you to send her a picture) will be truly amazed!

To get to the Fire Festival (Hiwatari Matsuri) take the Keio Line Train from Shinjuku all the way to the end of the line, Takaosanguchi Station. Or take JR west to Takao, then change to the Keio Line, and one stop to: Takaosanguchi. Follow the crowds going up the hill from the station. lt's about a five minute walk. And don't forget to bring a towel or some tissues to clean the charcoal off your feet! Have a good walk!

T.T., Mar.93 -- HOT TO TROT* *or: Everything you always wanted to know about fire walking but were afraid to ask...

On Saturday, March 13th, there will be a Fire Walking Festival (Hiwatari Matsuri). If your feet still feel kind of chilly from the Winter's cold - this might be a good chance to warm your toes. The Buddhist priests at the temple near Mt. Takao hold this annual ceremony in mid-March each year.

The ceremony starts about 1p.m., but you'll want to get there early to get a good spot from which to view the entire procession. It all begins with a drum beating chorus, followed by the entrance of the Buddhist priests, sacred readings and religious chants. Later the huge stack of logs and limbs in the middle are doused with gasoline and set alight. As the fire reaches its height the front rows of spectators (even though a safe distance back) beginning feeling the heat and checking each other for falling ash. It gets hot!

More wood is thrown on the fire at this time and the priests begin taking their shoes off as the embers are raked down and leveled out. As soon as the priests cross the hot coals the audience will be invited to line up and follow. If you wish to do this (...corn and bunion removal problems?) position yourself near the end where you see the priests start from, because the line soon becomes very long and can take an hour till reaching its end. Take advantage of the salt piles on both ends of the walk, i.e. you want some salt to adhere to your soles before starting across. And bring a towel along to wipe the soot off of your feet afterwards.

Does walking on fire sound like fun to you? Well then this is your festival. Take the Keio Line west from Shinjuku Station, all the way out to the last stop, Takao San-Guchi Station. It takes about 50 minutes. From the stafion exit turn right, up the slight hill and follow the crowds. The site is next to the National Science Museum. It is best to arrive before noon. And later, don't miss the shops in town and maybe a cable-car ride to the top of Mt. Takao.

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