Hinamatsuri

Well, I meant to get this up yesterday, but oh well!  Yesterday was Hinamatsuri in Japan, which is also called Girls' Day or Doll's day.  It is celebrated every year on March 3.  Ornamental dolls are displayed in homes, stores, and shrines.  The dolls represent the emperor, empress, and their various attendants in Heian period dress.

The tradition started with a custom called hina-nagashi ("doll floating"), in which straw dolls were put on little boats in a river and sent to the sea, supposedly to take troubles and bad spirits with them.  The doll displays can be very elaborate, with up to seven different levels, with attendants and symbolic items, such as the hishimochi pictured above, which are diamond-shaped colored chewy rice cakes.  The red/pink symbolizes plum flowers, the white (or yellow in some regions) represents the snow and its cleansing effects, and the green is made from a plant that is believed to be a restorative that improves the blood.  People also often eat chirashizushi on that day, along with a clam soup called ushiojiru.  

Families usually display the dolls in February and take them down after the festival, as superstition says that leaving the dolls up past March 4th will result in a late marriage for the daughter.