Saturday, March 2, 2013

Carpe Diem #135, Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival)

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

I wonder ... did our classic haiku ancestors such as Issa, Basho or e.g. Kikaku use those wonderful kigo? I think they did. So today our prompt is Hina Matsuri or Doll Festival. I have sought they internet and the books about haiku I have for a few examples of classic haiku in which this prompt is used. By the way, the Dolls Festival was (and still is) on the 3rd of March.

Dolls Festival

The Japanese Doll Festival ( Hina-matsuri?), or Girls' Day, is held on March 3. Platforms covered with a red carpet are used to display a set of ornamental dolls (hina-ningyō?) representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians in traditional court dress of the Heian period.

The custom of displaying dolls began during the Heian period. Formerly, people believed the dolls possessed the power to contain bad spirits. Hinamatsuri traces its origins to an ancient Japanese custom called hina-nagashi (lit. "doll floating"), in which straw hina dolls are set afloat on a boat and sent down a river to the sea, supposedly taking troubles or bad spirits with them. The Shimogamo Shrine (part of the Kamo Shrine complex in Kyoto) celebrates the Nagashibina by floating these dolls between the Takano and Kamo Rivers to pray for the safety of children. People have stopped doing this now because of fishermen catching the dolls in their nets. They now send them out to sea, and when the spectators are gone they take the boats out of the water and bring them back to the temple and burn them.
The customary drink for the festival is shirozake, a sake made from fermented rice. A colored hina-arare, bite-sized crackers flavored with sugar or soy sauce depending on the region, and hishimochi, a diamond-shaped colored rice cake, are served. Chirashizushi (sushi rice flavored with sugar, vinegar, topped with raw fish and a variety of ingredients) is often eaten. A salt-based soup called ushiojiru containing clams still in the shell is also served. Clam shells in food are deemed the symbol of a united and peaceful couple, because a pair of clam shells fits perfectly, and no pair but the original pair can do so.
Families generally start to display the dolls in February and take them down immediately after the festival. Superstition says that leaving the dolls past March 4 will result in a late marriage for the daughter.

A few examples of haiku written by our haiku ancestors on the Dolls Festival.

Rogetsu (1873-1927, a pupil of Shiki) wrote:

as they were lighting up
in the Doll Market
it was raining

Or what do you say about this one by Baishitsu:

picking it up
soon I was smiling
dolls for sale

The poet picked up a doll from a stall selling dolls for the Girls Festival or Doll Festival. The sweet little face and charming clothes, the life and humanity of this lifeless mannequin, the memoires of childhood, the softening of the heart calloused by time, - these are suddenly fell when the poet realizes that he is smiling at the doll. One almost feels that men were made for dolls, not dolls for men.

Dolls Festival
Another one written by Ransetsu (1653-1707):

the childless woman
how tender she is
to the dolls

Or this one by Buson:

coming out of the box
this pair of dolls
I have not forgotten their faces

As the young girl opens the box and the pair of dolls appear, one male, the other female, she has a rush of feeling, a combination of novelty and recognition. Only once a year is the box opened, but the well-beloved faces have the same sweet dignity as ever.

A last one by Seifu (a female haiku poet died in 1814):

the faces of the dolls!
though I never intended to
I have grown old

This haiku speaks for it's own.

Bonus haiku:

darkened is the altar of Buddha
the room has been taken
by the dolls

In this one, written by Gyodai (1732-1793) an imagery is painted about the Buddhist family altar, though not over-bright and cheerful, it was in harmony with the room, but now the dolls have been set out on their scarlet dais, the altar seems s horn of its light.

Dolls Festival

All wonderful haiku ... to write a new one on Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival) will not be easy and maybe even a sin (smiles), but I have to write a new one. This will not be easy, because in our Western world we have not such a Doll Festival (as far as I know).
So I have to empathize with our haiku ancestors and be 'one with them' to write a new haiku.

celebrating gods
dolls standing together
Ah! What a sight

Ah! What a sight
those colorful dolls
and the Buddhist altar

And another one more 'western' in it's imagery:

my granddaughter
she unpacks the dolls -
shining bright eyes

Well ... it was really a joy to tell you all a little bit more about Hina Matsuri (Girls's Festival or Doll Festival) and to share those wonderful haiku with you. I didn't expect that I could write a haiku (or a few) about Hina Matsuri, but I think I succeeded. Now it's up to you ... have fun, enjoy the read, be creative and inspired. Share your haiku with our community of haiku poets.

This prompt will stay on 'till March 4th 11.59 AM (CET) and I will post our new classical kigo, Haru Ichiban (first Spring gust), later on today around 10.00 PM (CET).


  1. Very difficult prompt. I think you did great.

  2. I don't know of such a festival in Romania but we have in July a girls festival when supposedly girls find their soul mate and go on a mountain, in a magic place to receive prosperity and happiness.

    Loved your haiku and you're right - it's hard to relate to an unknown cultural reality.

  3. Somehow, in our Western world, the delight of dolls, even among the young, is not a high priority on the fun list! I guess the Barbie mania still lives on! And I'm sure it's just a girl "thing" anyways!

  4. I like yours. I also had trouble relating to this cultural thing, and though dolls can be lovely, they also creep me out, so mine is a bit of a horror haiku today....

  5. A great page! Really good research and some beautiful haiku showing what an art form it is. I really liked your Oriental/Western comparisons with your haiku.

  6. loved the prompt . There are similar traditions practised in India too :) lovely set of haikus you have penned down too !

  7. The first look at the prompt made it look more difficult than it turned out to be. Nice idea anyway.

  8. I imagine that both the doll and your granddaughter have shining bright eyes!

  9. The doll was different... all good. :-)