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Museum Mondays: Japanese doll festival

February 17, 2013 at 10:34 pm

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The Hinamatsuri Festival, literally “Doll Festival” also known as “Girls’ Day,” celebrates spring, girls, and weddings. In Japan, March 3 (3/3) is the actual day of the festival, but elaborate displays of Japanese dolls are set out mid-February in anticipation of the festival. As part of the tradition, an unmarried girl who set up displays of dolls must take them down promptly on March 3, or bring upon herself the bad fortune of marrying late or not marrying at all. 

Typically, an assemblage consists of 15 elaborately costumed dolls, along with appropriate furniture, displayed on risers. Lord and lady preside over an entire court of dolls dressed in Heian period (794-1185 CE). The entourage includes court ladies, musicians, ministers, servants, and guards. The popularization of elaborate doll displays began in the Edo period (1603-1867) with a rising merchant class using their newfound wealth to emulate the nobility. It was also during this period that the Hinamatsuri Festival was officially recognized by the Tokugawa government.  During the Meiji era (1869-1912), when the Japanese Emperor was restored, Lord and Lady dolls became Emperor and Empress dolls, inspiring young girls to revere the newly installed royal family.    

Hinamatsuri sets are acquired at great expense, sometimes costing thousands of dollars. Grandparents will often purchase a set for their granddaughters, or hand down a family heirloom set.

The Wright Museum of Art was gifted its hinamatsuri set from Charles Morse in 1958. The set is purported to have been gifted by the Emperor of Japan to the German ambassador to Japan in the late 19th century. Sarah Conn’13 has been researching the Wright’s hinamatsuri doll collection and will have them on display in the Wright Museum lobby until March 3.

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