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Monday, February 26

Happy Hina Matsuri, Little Pretty Ones!

A surprise invitation came to our door on Saturday afternoon. Our neighbor who had worried last week about problems between us had come to tell us that she had decorated her house for Hina-matsuri (Doll Festival), a Japanese holiday where it people pray for the happiness and healthy growth of their girls, and that she wished us to come see the decorations and have tea with her on Sunday. Around one in the afternoon, with a nicely wrapped box of chocolates to present, we rang her bell and entered the home she shared with her husband. They led us back a hallway on the first floor into a room that was completely empty except for seven shelves resembling a staircase that had been put up and covered in red felt. On each step were hina-ningyo or Japanese dolls, each dressed in traditional royal court costume with the highest step presenting the emperor and empress. Subsequent steps showing their various court members, I presume according to their rank. On the second shelf sat three court ladies, followed by five musicians on the next shelf and then two ministers on the fourth shelf. Three servants housed another shelf and on various steps were offerings of diamond shaped rice cakes and dry rice cake flakes, which are the traditional sweets served on this holiday. Also present were a variety of meal dishes, small furniture that the royal court would use and peach blossomed trees which are also honored on this day. Although I wanted to snap a picture, I refrained for the worry of appearing uncouth. And the fact that Kimono Hubby said I couldn’t.

These dolls are only displayed for one week until the actual holiday date of March 3rd. Immediately after which, they are put away for another year so as not to make the daughter delayed in entering a marriage, so the story goes. Our neighbor’s doll collection was purchased when the family had their daughter and every year it is put up to honor her and other Japanese girls.

We took our time and examined each row, carefully looking at each piece. In Japan, traditions like these are meant to be appreciated and not rushed through like we are oh-so-used-to at home. After some time and thorough explanation, we were led up the stairs to where the living quarters of the home are. In traditional Japanese homes, it is typical to find the living room and kitchen on the upper floors and so it was in our neighbor’s home.

Fortunately, they did not choose to sit in a tatami room because I just wasn’t sure how KH could handle that position. Our hosts opted for the table. Although this is where the break from their tradition ended. Sweets are served before tea and the hostess did so this time. The sweets were similar to that which were found on the shelves downstairs and covered the expected sugar and spice and everything nice. An additional treat were osambe crackers (if you recall, I made them in Takayama) wrapped in seaweed. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love these. Green tea was served last while we sat and talked. I should say that these are our neighbors who do speak English quite well. The problem is that we do not know them very well so the conversation had its moments of strain for that simple reason. They are a retired couple and indicated that their ages were in the 70s for him and the 60s for her but I can tell you that neither looked more than 50. If that is what Japan does for you, I think I’m staying!

We stayed for an hour, not knowing exactly when it was appropriate to take our leave. After many bows at the door of gratitude for including us and for the invitation, we walked the short steps back to our own front door. Not knowing exactly how to respond to the visit, the first thing KH mentioned is how his monster American feet probably stretched their slippers that were kindly offered to us. Then we chatted for a moment over how pretty the dolls were only to find us back at a loss for words.

Japan is a beautiful place and I appreciate their devotion to culture and tradition. But honestly, sometimes it is lost on me. I can say that I am looking forward to the boy’s counterpart festival now! Perhaps they will serve us frogs and snails and puppy dog tails.


Mike S said...

You seem to have done very well. One of my fellow employees, a native Japanese, had 5 daughters and I know the wonder of perusing those intricate dolls.

Shin said...

It is nice to see a married couple around my age (zodiac year of ox too) from the States having a great time in Japan.
As you said it can be too much and I do not particularly follow those traditional events but it seems my Aussie wife is quite into traditional things.
She also keeps her blog so if you are interested please take a look.


kuroirodo said...

once, on my japanese class, we made in origami some king and queen for the hina matsuri.
and the traditions on every place on the world are always beautyful...

Heather Meadows said...

Wow, how neat! The only place I have ever seen hina matsuri dolls in person is a local Japanese restaurant that unfortunately burned down last year. I don't know if they were able to save them.

Other than that, I did see them in Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, which was very cool.

You know, I'm tempted to bet that they wouldn't have minded if you took a picture or two, but I'm conflicted. The family I stayed with in Japan was very happy for me to take pictures of traditional items and the house and every family member--a photo was like a compliment. But there were times, like when they brought me to visit someone else's house, that I wasn't sure if photos would be rude or not. Maybe there's a level of familiarity that's necessary first? I really don't know...but I'd like to :>