Hina-dolls of Kahoku

Written by: Jasmine Li


Hina-matsuri (Doll Festival or Girls’ Day), celebrated on the third of March every year, is one of the best-looking festivals in Japan. Right after Valentine’s Day, stores put up pink and flowery decorations for this day, which always reminds me of the arrival of spring (although in Yamagata, it is not uncommon to see snow in March). On Hina-matsuri, parents put up Hina dolls wearing traditional dresses with Heian era inside homes to celebrate their daughters’ health and growth. Since my family is not Japanese, we don’t have the habit of putting up Hina-dolls at home. Growing up in Japan, I was always extremely envious of my classmates’ dolls.


While almost all Japanese are quite familiar with this festival, not many know that most of Hina-dolls in Japan are actually produced in the town of Kahoku in Yamagata Prefecture. There is a gallery called Benibana Shiryokan (Safflower Gallery), which is home of a great collection of various Hine-dolls from the historical periods. Until this visit, I had never known about the evolutions of Hina-dolls: the facial features and clothing of the dolls have changed over time. I also learned that you could tell the person’s rank and marital status from the dolls’ appearances. For instance, if the doll has no eyebrows and black teeth, it is an indication that she is married.


After visiting the gallery, my Japanese co-worker took us to his parents’ home, where there was a display of the “modern” Hina-dolls. These dolls looked more “plain” and resembled what we think humans look like today. Overall, it was really interesting to see all the differences!


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