Celebrated every March 3 in Japan, Hinamatsuri, also known as the Dolls' Festival and Girls’ Day, is a holiday during which dolls in traditional Heian period (794-1185) dress are displayed. Families pray for the prosperity, health, and beauty of their daughters. The dolls are initially put on display in February and are then taken down on March 4; if the dolls are left on display any longer, it is believed that the daughters of the family will marry late.
The Japanese once believed that evil spirits and bad fortune would be carried away with the dolls when they were released into a river. Nowadays, most families pack their set of dolls away, though some temples continue to float dolls down rivers or into the sea. Many families pass down the dolls from generation to generation, but some also buy a new set of dolls when the first daughter is born, as brides tend to take the dolls with them when they marry.
The dolls (hina-ningyo) in Japanese, are set upon a seven-tiered platform and have a specific placement. The first tier holds the imperial dolls, the Emperor and Empress. The second tier holds three ladies-in-waiting, and the third holds five court musicians. The fourth tier holds the minister dolls and dishes of food, while the fifth holds palace guards, as well as a cherry blossom and an orange tree. The sixth and seventh tiers contain items used in and around the palace.
Other traditions that occur during Hinamatsuri include eating special foods, such as hishi-mochi, a rice cake that has three layers with different colors that represent life, fertility, and good health, and chirashizushi, which is a bowl of sushi rice and different types of fish and vegetables. Hinamatsuri is celebrated in Hawaii and Florence, Italy, as well, with the same customs taking place.
A similar holiday, Kodomo no Hi, or Children`s Day, takes place on May 5th. Large carp-shaped windsocks called koi-nobori are flown for every child in the family, though in the past they were only flown for boys. Military helmets, or kabuto, are also displayed to promote courage and strength. Kintaro, a candy named after the legendary Japanese folktale figure, is traditionally eaten on this day, as is kashiwa-mochi, a rice cake filled with red bean paste and wrapped in oak leaves.