Japanese dolls

March 8, 2007

In Japan, March 3rd was Hina Matsuri, the Festival of the Dolls, also known as Girls’ Day or the Peach Festival.

I was at the home of a Japanese friend this morning, who showed me what she had done for her daughter on that occasion. She had made a display of meticulously hand made dolls that used to belong to her grandmother; they were sitting or standing on seven tiers or steps, covered in scarlet cloth. It is supposed to be unlucky for a girl’s marriage prospects if the dolls remain too long on display, by the way. To the right and left of the structure stood a pair of artificial peach trees in miniature, the one on the left bearing fruit, the one on the right in blossom.

It was very heirarchic. The pair of dolls enthroned at the top level were meant to be a prince and princess. Below them, two ministers of the court stood on guard—the Minister-on-the-right and the Minister-on-the-left—and on the next level down, three ladies-in-waiting. Below them sat five court musicians, their miniature instruments in their hands, and then came a tier full of lacquered, decorated furniture including black and gold chests of drawers and a tiny tea set. Sword-bearing samurai, or “knights” as my friend called them, guarded these precious objects, and three humbler servants, one carrying a broom, stood on the lowest step.

Some Japanese homes do not have such splendid sets; they will probably have an equivalent collection of smaller, origami dolls, instead.

Meanwhile, in the basement, a red kimono had been hung, lavish with flying cranes, symbols of symbol of good luck and longevity. In fact the red-crowned crane is said to live for a thousand years.

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