text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
At the top are the Emperor and the Empress. On the next lower tier, there are three ladies-in-waiting holding utensils for the serving of sake and after that there is a tier with five male musicians, one tier with two male ministers, one young and one old and a tier with three warriors who for now have put their weapons down and are drinking. If there are more tiers, they will contain several items from the imperial residence (kimono storage closets, chests of drawers, braziers, tea ceremony utensils, ox carts) while around the imperial couple and the courtiers silk lamps, vases with peach-tree branches and tables are placed in a very particular order; all miniatures and all painstakingly detailed.
Every February, families with daughters bring out from the storage room the above setting and place it in some prominent spot of their home; even in the smallest apartment (and “smallest” in Japan can be unbelievably small by Western standards) there will always be a place for the “hina ningyo” (雛人形) the dolls that are not toys but a temporary shrine to the future happiness and the trouble-free growth of the family’s girls. The dolls will remain on their shelves until March 3, the day of the “Hina Matsuri” (雛祭り) and after that they will return immediately to their boxes; the superstition goes that if they remain even one more day after that, the girls will marry late.
Hina Matsuri is one more of those things that make you wonder if Japan was really ever modernized: the gap between the utterly classical atmosphere as defined by the dolls’ dresses and utensils, i.e. the atmosphere of the Heian period (794-1185) and the utterly modern setting that surrounds them both at homes and at stores is so big that it seems unbridgeable; the same goes for the offerings of fruits or “scattered” sushi (chirashi zushi/ちらし寿司) in front of the shrine. But the need behind Hina Matsuri, that is, the hope of the parents for a better future for their children is not limited by time: it is as strong today as it was one thousand years ago.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.
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