History of Yusoku Hina Ningyo Dolls

Chapter 1

Origin of the Girl's Festival

Joshi-no-Sekku Ritual (Serpent Day)

This custom originated in ancient China three thousand years ago. According to the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang, the first day of mi (serpent) in March was regarded as an inauspicious day. It is said that people used to wash their hands and feet in a river or the sea as a way of escaping misfortune on that day.

During that time in China, people also practiced the "katashiro (a paper image) faith", attempting to protect themselves by entrusting their impurity to human images made of paper or grass. These two rituals were combined and became an annual event called Mi-no-hi-no-harae (purification on the day of the Serpent). This is the origin of the Joshi-no-Sekku Ritual.

With the commencement of cultural interchange with China, this custom was brought to Japan in ancient times where people stroked their bodies with katashiro images, onto which they transferred their impurity and evil, setting them adrift on rivers and the sea on the day of the Serpent in March. The name katashiro was also called "hitogata (shape of man)" which later became the term "ningyo (doll)" of today. In some regions of Japan, for example, Tottori and Wakayama Prefectures, events during which dolls are set adrift on the water are still practiced today. This is certainly a vestige of the ancient Chinese ritual.

The reason why the event, originally held on the first day of mi in March, later came to be held on the third of March is because it was influenced by the Chinese idea that the day matching the number of the month, such as the fifth of May or seventh of July was a cause for celebration.

Hiina-Asobi (Playing with Hina dolls)

During the Heian period (794-1180), playing with dolls was called hiina-asobi and was very popular not only among young girls but also adult women of the nobility. The term "hiina" derived from an old diminutive used for small and charming things and meant a doll in those days.

This play consisted mainly of a pair of female and male dolls together with some miniature furniture and household effects. Naturally, the month of March was not the only time when people played this. Mention of the hiina and hiina-asobi often appears in literature of the Heian period. For example, in the "Tale of Genji" there is a description of young ladies being absorbed in such play on New Year's Day, while in a collection of poems by Emperor Murakami (926-967), he wrote about hiina-asobi on the Tanabata Star Festival Day, the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. These examples alone prove how much such play was loved and enjoyed among the nobility in their daily lives.

In the "Pillow Book" by Seisho Nagon, the first known Japanese essay, hiina is defined as a term to describe beautiful and charming objects. Furthermore, the "Gossamer Years", a diary by a noblewoman of that period, describes how court ladies sewed and dressed costumes on hiina dolls, from which we can imagine how much they enjoyed such activity.

It is said that the hiina doll, which was hand-made by the court ladies, began to be made professionally by the sculptors of Buddhist images or noh masks during the Muromachi period (1333-1573), following the introduction of aleurone (whitewash) to doll making. Before the Heian period, hiina-asobi had been just like the children's game of playing house of today. This may not have led immediately to the present Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival or Girl's Festival), however one can say that the festival originated in the hiina-asobi as a form of girl's play.

The Hina Matsuri is today an established regular annual event, integrating this hiina-asobi and the Serpent Day Ritual. From the Edo period (1600-1867) and thereafter, the term "hiina" became "hina".

Chapter 2

Development of the Girl's Festival

Hina Matsuri in the Edo Period

As the culture attained full maturity, the Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival or Girl's Festival) gradually became more elaborate. Towards the middle of the Edo period, dolls representing a noble male and female couple of the Imperial Court dressed in formal costumes and in a sitting position, became popular in Kyoto and spread throughout Japan. The pair was called "Dairi (Emperor and Empress)-bina", as they were both dressed in miniature Imperial costumes. The reason why the hina doll is also called Dairi-bina today, is because as a form it descended from this Emperor and Empress style.

Furthermore, upon reaching the middle of the Edo period, the Hina Matsuri grew even more opulent, with additional dolls and furniture being decorated in tiers together with the Emperor and Empress dolls, and paper hina dolls.

In those days, the festival display in Kyoto and Osaka, consisted of a two-tiered stand; the upper tier consisted of ornaments such as a palace with the Emperor and Empress dolls in it, paper hina dolls and other court officials, ladies and guard dolls, miniature cherry and mandarin orange trees, paper dogs and dolls in fashionable costumes. While the lower tier consisted of some furniture, a court carriage, kitchen utensils, candlestands, individual tables with rice cakes and white sake.

Meanwhile the display was even more elaborate in Tokyo, having three- or four-tier stands. The main dolls were similar to those of Kyoto and Osaka, but instead of a palace, a folding screen stood behind the Emperor and Empress dolls, while other popular figures, such as five musicians, gods and priests, dolls in fashionable costumes, mechanical toys, and a sacred horse and crane, replaced the court officials, ladies and guard dolls.

Hina Dolls as a Gift

It was during the middle of the Edo period that the Hina Matsuri took root as an event to celebrate a girl's birth on the third of March of her first year. Along with this, the custom of giving hina dolls became popular; the dolls together with other gifts were placed on a palanquin and carried to the girl's family. A genre literature of those days depicted in detail how such a palanquin should be prepared, what it should contain and so on. A drawing of the Edo period also shows a picture of a palanquin loaded with hina dolls and their accessories carried by two men, while being accompanied by a lady attendant. Since about this time, another custom of including a set of hina dolls in a bride's trousseau, and holding a Hina Matsuri on the first third of March of her marriage at the home of the family into which she had married, was practiced.

The hina dolls made in Kyoto were called Kyo-bina and were considered to be the highest quality in Japan, while the Kyoto style was adopted for celebration. Although the sitting position of the Emperor and Empress dolls differs between Kyoto and the Tokyo region today, the Kyoto style prevailed in those days, which reveals that the real essence of hina dolls originated in Kyoto.

Chapter 3

Yusoku-bina of Kyoto

Muromachi-bina The Oldest Sitting Hina Dolls

Hina dolls are broadly divided into two styles, those in a sitting position and those standing. Those in the standing position are a vestige of the "hiina" of the Heian period, which were not intended to be displayed in the standing position and in fact even when people began to display hina dolls during the Edo period, they were simply placed leaning against the folding screen. In this style, the female doll was dressed in kosode (short-sleeved kimono) with narrow obi (sash) and the male doll in kosode and hakama (formal divided skirt), and had outstretched arms.

With the spreading custom of displaying dolls for the Girl's Festival on the third of March, hina dolls in the sitting position were produced which gradually became the prevailing style. One of the early examples of this type was called Muromachi-bina; the male doll was dressed in noshi (everyday formal wear) with white silk hakama skirt, while the female doll, whose arms were outstretched wore a red silk hakama skirt, featuring round-faced dolls, which were supposed to resemble the Amagatsu doll, known as the origin of the present day Japanese doll. The name "Muromachi" represented the fact that they were in the classical style, not that they were made during that period.

Since then, hina dolls in a sitting position have been continually made in various styles named Jirozaemon-bina, Genroku-bina, Kyoho-bina, Yusoku-bina, Kokin-bina and others to the present day. Influenced by their historical background since the Heian period, hina dolls were primarily produced in Kyoto, and regarded as being of the finest quality.

Yusoku-bina Representing the Orthodoxy of Court Culture

At the time when Jirozaemon-bina was enjoying steady popularity, a new type of hina doll appeared in Kyoto. They were called Yusoku-bina as they were crafted by the yusoku method by which accurate historical evidence concerning the costumes of the court was ascertained. They were also known as Takakura-bina named after the Takakura family, the established connoisseur of yusoku knowledge who served the Imperial Palace.

Placing emphasis on the observation of historical facts, the Yusoku-bina was made very realistic in all respects, including the facial features. In terms of costume, ikan (simplified sokutai) or noshi of the court were often used rather than the sokutai (ceremonial dress). The fabrics were specially woven in accordance with court rank, age and the season, without being simply limited to gold brocade. For example, in the case of the noshi, the style for winter was selected as the Hina Matsuri and was held in March (of the lunar calendar). The costume was tailored based on the design for those under thirty years of age, by employing white with deep purple or red colored lining.

However, as these Yusoku-bina were originally produced for the nobility, they did not become popular among the general public. Nonetheless, they provided the later hina dolls with an example to follow concerning their realistic style.

Chapter 4

Style of the Hina Display

Development of the Hina Doll Display

Today the largest hina doll display consists of seven tiers, unlike that of the early Edo period when the festival spread throughout Japan. It was common in those days to display hina dolls in sitting and standing positions on a flat platform placed in front of a folding screen standing in the corner of a room. As the festival became more elaborate, while being established as a celebratory occasion for girls, the display became more opulent and the number of tiers increased.

One can learn from haiku poems of the middle of the Edo period, that such gorgeous displays already existed at that time. There is also a drawing of the same period which depicts common people who could not afford large houses temporarily using the draws of a chest to replace the hina doll display stands. Other literature depicts a wall-closet that was used as a display stand by those who lived in row houses. These ideas represent the wisdom of living, which proves that the festival was enjoyed by a broad range of families.

An illustration in the "Japanese Calendar of the Seasons" of the Edo period, shows men participating in a cockfight outdoors on the day of the Hina Matsuri, which was also a part of the event. With the spread of the festival among the common people, other customs such as hina doll viewing in which children made a tour by visiting houses which had hina doll displays, and hina arashi to collect Hina Matsuri sweets, took root in society.

Three Court ladies, Five Court Musicians and Guards

Three court lady dolls are displayed on the second tier from the top of the stand below the Emperor and Empress dolls on the first. The sitting lady in the center holds a sake cup stand while two standing ladies on her left and right hold a long-handled ladle and sake server respectively. On the third stand, there are dolls representing five musicians sitting in the same order as the noh theater accompaniment. From right to left; a vocalist holding a folding fan, a flutist, a small hand drummer in the center, a large hand drummer and a taiko drummer. It is said that the five musicians were introduced in Tokyo in 1780. On the fourth tier, Kyoto style court guards are displayed. The Imperial Palace called the guards who defended the east side Sakon-e (soldier at the left), and those who defended the west Ukon-e (soldier at the right), according to positioning based on the fact that the Emperor faced to the south. The Sakon-e fourth rank guard doll, representing an elder man is dressed in black, and the Ukon-e fifth rank guard doll in red. The display also includes three retainer soldiers below these guards.

These seven-tier stand hina doll displays became widely common in and after the middle of the Edo period. By thoroughly understanding the meanings of individual displays, one can learn the wishes of the people who entrusted them to the Hina Matsuri.