It’s here, one of my favoutire times of the year! March 3 in Japan is when we celebrate hinamatsuri 雛祭り, aka Japanese Doll Festival or Girls’ Day. Dolls are displayed in homes for families to wish their daughters health and happiness in life. A setup is also often made by stores, offices and public places to celebrate the occasion. I’ve always enjoyed looking at dolls so this time of year is something I look forward to, just to see everyone’s decorations.
(English continued below)
じゅじゅ雛祭り！私も自己流の雛壇をセットアップしてみました☺️ アクスタはお正月イベントで買ったもの、その他は百均で揃えました。男雛・女雛は公認カップルの優太くんと里香ちゃんで? 和装姿のじゅじゅフィギュアはあまりないのでこのデザインはありがたいですね。人数はちょうど良かったので皆、買った甲斐がありました。本当は七段飾りにするためもう少し道具を揃えればよかったなあ、と写真を見て思いましたが、ま、来年、パワーアップできるよう頑張ります? 素敵な雛祭りを過ごせますように?
“Will you put up something grand?” I excitedly asked a colleague at the office, a mother of two. Her daughter, Aya, was in kindergarten.
“No, nothing spectacular!” she laughed at my misplaced eagerness. “You know we live in a flat. Besides, I remember the setup we had back home as a child. Was in a musty, seldom-used tatami (grass mat) room. Never liked going in there!”
“You mean you had the whole thing, all seven tiers?”
“Sure! But you know how not cute the old dolls look to small children!”
(Above: Close-up of a traditional doll by Yoshitoku)
She was referring to hinaningyo 雛人形 , traditional Japanese dolls arranged to look like an imperial court during the Heian period (late 8th century – 12th century AD).
“Has Aya-chan ever seen them?”
“When she was two we visited my parents in my hometown. They had set up the full thing a few days before the festival, and were excited to show their granddaughter. Unfortunately, she took one look at it and ran out of the room, looking for her mummy!” my colleague said, chuckling at the memory.
(Above: Store display of full 7-tier doll platform by Shugetsu)
“Will you inherit the setup?” I asked curiously. Parents sometimes pass down complete doll sets as family heirlooms.
“Oh dear, I hope Mum won’t make me! She knows I don’t have the space. My older sister’s not too keen on it, either. Would rather we sell the old set and buy a small, compact one, you know, the updated kind.”
A Matter of Space
Twenty-first century well-to-do families with stand-alone houses and spare rooms can afford to have the entire setup like the one shown above, which can easily be about 120cm wide and just under 2 metres tall. Needless to say, a full setup can be quite expensive and space-consuming. Those living in smaller apartments often have a miniature or compact version.
(Above: Store display at Kyugetsu‘s Asakusa shop. Swipe to see a dollmaker doing an in-store demo.)
Above you can see a store display by 久月 Kyugetsu, one of the major traditional doll makers in Japan. To the right is a full display consisting of fifteen dolls in seven tiers, with the whole shebang: doll-sized food, furniture, tools, plants, carriages. You can see smaller versions to the left: two dolls at minimum.
In case you’re wondering how much a full display costs, here’s a Kyugetsu 7-tier set on Rakuten:
(Above: 7-tier doll set by Kyugetsu)
List price is JPY 4,950,000 (about USD 43,000 [forty-three thousand] as of this writing). Of course, you get a large discount coupon and all, but still, it’s not cheap!
I know why: these traditional doll sets are hand-crafted, hand-sewn, hand-painted, hand-embellished, hand-made to exacting standards by Japanese master dollmakers.
(Above: Detail of a doll by Kyugetsu. Swipe to see the bottom and back parts.)
It’s hard to see with the tiny pictures but each piece is exquisitely crafted to perfection. The costumes in particular are incredibly intricate. I’m not at all surprised they’d cost as much.
Doll Window Shopping
Of course, as I do each year, I went to a department store to ogle at the doll sets for sale. The nice thing about big city department stores is that they offer lovely, mid-range sets with smaller urban homes – and tighter budgets – in mind.
Here’s a few of the ones they had this year:
This gorgeous 3-tier setup by Yoshitoku 吉徳 features traditional gold and red colours, with a simple red, embroidered fabric for the base. Price: JPY 308,000 (tax incl) / USD 2,700
For those who don’t like all that red, a Kyugetsu set has got you covered, with a less in-your-face feel, using strips of fabric instead of an entire carpet. Price: JPY 247,000 (tax incl) / USD 2,100
Lovers of Japanese lacquer will adore this set, more affordable than the ones above, the black base doubling as a storage box so you can keep everything inside when not in use. Convenient, don’t you think? Price: JPY 179,300 (tax incl) / USD 1,600
Prefer not to see all that black lacquer? This one with a dark red lacquered base-cum-storage box might be right up your alley. Price: JPY 280,500 (tax incl) / USD 2,400
Who says a setup has to be in gold and red and lacquer? Here’s a modernised, pretty, pink-and-red one, with beige-coloured wood for the furniture and base, also doubling as a storage box. Price: JPY 253,000 (tax incl) / USD 2,200
Honestly, though, while all of the above are beautiful, they’re still too expensive for me. Lucky girls from well-to-do families may inherit a set of dolls from their mothers, sometimes passed on from generation to generation.
Dolls for Shoebox Flats
Sadly, I’m not amongst the lucky ones. Whilst my Japanese mum was born in Japan, she was largely raised abroad where she married and birthed her kids, and she’s the last person I know who’d be interested in these rather stern-looking traditional dolls with mask-like faces.
That means I have to get my own dolls. Here’s something more within my budget range:
(Above: Miniature ceramic dolls – JPY 27,500)
These tiny ceramic figures are a cutesy, cartoon-like version of the formal dolls. At JPY 27,500 per set, it’s much more affordable than the ones we saw earlier. Unlike the 20-30cm tall traditional dolls, these are also space-saving at only less than 6cm in height.
Many modern, miniature variations of the doll sets are actually very common nowadays. Aside from ceramic, glass, wood, fabric such as silk crepe, paper, nanoblocks and every other material imaginable are used to make small, relatively inexpensive, contemporary versions. Even the dollar stores now offer tiny dolls. Also popular are pop culture takes such as Disney miniature doll sets.
But what if you’re a traditionalist? What if you actually like the formal-looking dolls with their powder-white faces and big oiled hair and layers of silk robes?
(Above: Traditional 2-doll setup by Kyugetsu – JPY 47,000)
Well, the dollmakers have got you covered. Take this 2-doll set by Kyugetsu, conveniently placed inside a decorated protective case. Dust free, how thoughtful! You even get to choose the background design, and listen to the music box playing a traditional Japanese doll festival song. At less than 50cm wide, it’s compact and easy to display atop a chest or table, as well as stash in a dark closet when the event is over. Price? JPY 47,000 (about USD 400).
Flea Market Dolls
Hmm. Do I have 400 dollars and would I like to spend it on traditional dolls? No, I don’t think so. If you’re like me and want to save your hard-earned money to buy anime/manga figures by ARTFX instead, then the best route is Mercari! Mercari, the Japanese online flea market with everything under the sun.
Remember the Kyugetsu 7-tier setup earlier with a list price of more than forty thousand dollars? Well, a similar, almost new, pre-owned set by Kikusui sold immediately on Mercari at JPY 80,000 (less than USD 700), shipping included.
To give you an idea of just how massive the full sets are, check out this Mercari listing from a seller in Nara prefecture. They’re practically giving away a 30-year-old but well-kept set for JPY 9,000 (less than USD 80). The caveat? You have to go pick it up as they refuse to ship it. If you swipe through the pics, you’ll see just how much space is needed to display as well as store a 7-tier setup. Full setups can be anywhere from 90 to 160cm wide and 135 to 180cm tall.
While we’re at it, here’s a listing of a nice 40-year-old set, at JPY 16,000 (about USD 140) including shipping, from a seller in Okayama prefecture.
If you’re into vintage and have the space at home but on a tight budget, then Mercari is the way to go.
DIY Hinadan Doll Platform
But then, what if you’re broke? Broke but don’t want to fold origami paper to make a setup (which, by the way, is a totally valid way to decorate for the occasion!). What if you have, say, twenty dollars to spend on the doll festival? That’s the question I asked myself last month. The answer?
I went to the dollar store and bought these for a dollar each:
I stuck the stickers to the card stands, put the felt over acrylic tiered stands I already had at home, lined up the Jujutsu Kaisen acrylic figure stands I bought at the New Year event in January, and came up with this:
To keep the base fabric in place, I used clips used by dressmakers. Thankfully, I found them in a nice shiny red colour so they weren’t too cringe to look at while I waited for the red felt to take the shape of the stand.
After a week or so, I removed the clips. Behold, my Jujutsu Kaisen poor man’s version of a hinadan 雛壇 (multi-tiered doll stand)!
Now that we have characters we love instead of anonymous dolls, let’s take a look at each tier.
Top Tier – Yuta Okkotsu and Rika Orimoto as Imperial Dolls
Since these two are the only canon couple in JJK, I chose them to decorate the first platform. They represent the Emperor and Empress, and are called tono 殿 (lord) and hime 姫 (princess). Behind them are gold byōbu 屏風 (folding screens) and to their sides are bonbori 雪洞 (lamp stands). Between the screens is a pair of kuchibana 口花 (vase of artificial peach branches).
I’m wondering if Rika was given a doll set as a child, before she died. Was it a formal one? Sendai (a city in northern Japan) homes can be spacious and it’s not rare for families there to own a full setup. For some reason, however, I see Rika as someone preferring the cute, mini kind.
Second Tier – Maki Zen’in and Nobara Kugisaki as Court Ladies
Here are two versions of Maki and one Nobara acting as court ladies. Strictly speaking, san-nin kanjo 三人官女 (three court ladies) should be holding serving utensils to offer sake to the other dolls.
Maki didn’t want to become a servant in her own home as a cursed technique-less Zen’in, but in this case I’m thinking she’s more than happy to play lady-in-waiting to the two. I’m sure with Nobara as her partner-in-crime, they have loads of crazy pranks up their sleeves xD Better watch your backs, Yuta and Rika, ahaha!
Third Tier – Yuji Itadori, Megumi Fushiguro, Satoru Gojo, Suguru Geto as Musicians
Five male musicians called gonin bayashi 五人囃子 populate the 3rd platform. Real ones should be holding musical instruments and a fan. But I haven’t got any miniature instruments (three types of drums and a flute), so will have to make do with these five boys looking adorable.
Which of the five do you think can play a musical instrument? In my head, Satoru really can play the violin (virtuoso level, not ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ level! xd), and Megumi can, too, having been taught by sis Tsumiki. I see Suguru as more of a piano player, while Yuji is a drums kind of guy 😀
As for the singer, who has the sweetest voice? Tough decision, but Megumi’s VA, Yuma Uchida, has released several albums already, so I suppose he should be the designated warbler!
Fourth Tier – Toge Inumaki as Administrator
I don’t know why I sort of automatically chose Toge as the 4th platform occupant. There are two roles here: the Udaijin 右大臣 (Minister of the Right) and his counterpart the Sadaijin 左大臣 (Minister of the Left).
As for the older Toge being on the left, this is deliberate. The more senior of the ministers, the Minister of the Left, should be on the ‘stage right’, that is, left in relation to the viewer. So since TV anime Toge is older than movie Toge, he gets to sit on the left.
Between the two ministers are a pair of hishidai 菱台 (diamond-shaped stands) bearing hishi mochi (rice cake) in a matching shape.
Fifth Tier – Divine Dogs and Panda as Helpers / Protectors
Aren’t these three JJK characters perfect for the 5th-tier role?
Three shichō 仕丁 (helper) or eji 衛士 (protector) are necessary to complete the 15-doll set: Panda and Megumi’s divine dogs are just what’s needed. They play
- Nakijōgo 泣き上戸 (Crying drinker)
- Okorijōgo 怒り上戸 (Angry drinker)
- Waraijōgo 笑い上戸 (Laughing drinker)
I’m thinking of Gorilla-mode Panda fitting the Angry Drinker role like a glove 😀 The ‘laughing’ and ‘crying’ ones would be the divine dogs howling, which can be heard as either one of the sounds. Simply perfect, don’t you think?
Flanking the helpers are: an Ukon no tachibana 右近の橘 (left mandarin orange tree) on one end, and a Sakon no sakura 左近の桜 (right cherry blossom tree) on the other.
Bottom Tier – Miniature Furniture
Platforms six and seven should hold an assortment of mini furniture, a carriage, tools and so on. But they’re not just randomly placed: 6th platform is for holding items used within the imperial palace, while the 7th platform is for items used when travelling.
The dollar store sticker set only had three pieces of furniture meant for the seventh platform, but I placed them on the sixth. They are, from left to right:
- Okago 御駕籠, palanquin or passenger conveyance, attached with poles for hoisting onto the shoulders of carrier men
- Jubako 重箱, set of nested lacquered food boxes
- Goshoguruma 御所車, an ox-drawn carriage
Ideally, there should be items like chests, mirror stand, sewing box, braziers, and tea ceremony utensils on the 6th platform. If I ever find the time, I’d love to carve these items using modelling clay, that way they’d be 3D like the diamond-shaped hishi mochi.
I had a lot of fun setting up this JJK hinadan 雛壇 (multi-tiered doll stand), very pleased I had just the right number of acrylic figures to make up a set. At JPY 1,980 (about USD 17) each, they cost me a total of around JPY 33,000, tax inclusive (about USD 290). So I better display them for as long as I can!
The good thing about these kimono and hakama-clad figures is that I can set them up on three occasions: New Year, Coming of Age Day, and of course, the Doll Festival. And because I live in a tiny flat, the whole setup can fit inside a shoebox, which really helps with space-saving.
What I do find disturbing about the Japanese Doll Festival is that it panders to traditional, outdated modes of thinking about gender roles – girls are gifted with feminine-looking dolls, while boys get masculine, samurai helmets on Children’s Day on May 5th (aka Boys’ Festival). I’d very much rather have children of all genders enjoying all kinds of dolls, be they ancient, silk-robed princesses or cool, sword-wielding warriors.
That’s it for our Jujutsu Kaisen take on Hinamatsuri! If you like dolls, here are the Instagram accounts of some popular traditional doll makers in Japan:
Have a happy Japanese Doll Festival celebration, virtual or otherwise!
Search keyphrase (set, any size)
Search keyphrase (7-tier set)
Search keyphrase (dolls only)
For the New Year Jujutsu Kaisen acrylic figure stands, check out my January blog post.
Thank you so much for reading! Please take a moment to share a thought or two in the comment section below. Your comments give me life and are a real source of encouragement. xoxo – hana