It’s February again and time to start setting out the dolls for Dolls Day, officially known as O Hina Sama. When a girl is born into the family, a set of court dolls is displayed on 3 to 5 to 7 steps of rank. The Emperor and Empress, the ladies in waiting, the court musicians, the ministers and the trays of food, the guards with an orange tree and a cherry tree.
O Hina sama may be the most beloved celebration of the Japanese year. All girls have tender memories of their own Hina dolls and the celebration in their family.
With beginnings in the Heian period, between the 9th and 12th centuries, when Hina-nagashi, straw and sometimes paper hina dolls were floated down the river in a boat and sent to sea, taking troubles and bad spirits with them. The dolls protected young girls and kept them safe. Since then, the custom became increasingly elaborate and luxurious, showing off both the meticulous craftsmanship of the doll makers, the luxury of materials and the wherewithal to have them made.
From the elaborate collections of the Tokugawa family, to the simpler prince and princess of other families, O Hina sama is celebrated in most homes and the 3rd day of the 3rd month is decorated with innocent pink peach blossoms and perky green na no hana/ rape flowers or kohlrabi and pink and white and green puffed rice and the beloved kompeto, colorful hard candies shaped like jacks or satellites. And sweet white sake.
O Hina sama arrived at Blue & White last Friday, the extraordinary creation of our Reiko Okunushi and her anything-is-possible fingers.
Masterfully displayed by our resourceful Sayoko Hayasawa, who sees new uses for old objects hanging around at Blue & White waiting to be used: antique windows become a platform for the royal couples. Tansu doors replace the hackneyed (dare I say it?) old bleachers covered with red felt that are the usual setting for O Hina sama.
Okunushi san and her husband have been eating clams for months now – a healthy diet, we hope – to save the shells as the base for her princes and princesses. Her materials are all natural. Her bright pinks and vivid reds and smashing purples are culled from old children’s kimono, mostly torn or damaged ones that can no longer be worn.
O Hina sama at Blue & White come in different versions. This year, shells are the featured style. Clam shells come as a pair, and no other clam shells fit together in the same way- a fitting analogy to a well suited Prince and Princess or husband and wife.zzzzz
Okunushi san’s stuffed daruma (dolls based on the Indian saint who prayed so long that he lost his legs. In Japan the thinking is that Daruma is knocked over 7 times, but gets up 8, a symbol of hope and thinking that everything will be all right.
Or the graceful Prince and Princess in silk kimono with hand stitched eyes, nose and mouth with faux kanoko shibori appliqued cheeks.
O Hina sama bowing in their forest of pink peach blossoms
For me, Okunishi san’s bright and love-filled princes and princesses come to take you to their world of laughter and joy and imagination. They sing and dance and curtsy and chatter in a vibrant and playful way that no other O Hina sama do for me. People on their way to Peacock Supermarket next door, forget their shopping lists for a while and enter her magic kingdom and dream. One wonderful moment years ago, when we had just finished displaying Okunushi san’s daruma, there was a thump on the window and we looked up to see a hopeful golden retriever trying to catch the daruma which he perceived as a delicious ball. To each his/her own dreams.
The only other candidates in my favorite O Hina sama dolls are the incredible and infinitesimal displays at the enchanting 4 generations of girls home of Yuri Konomi and her Mother, Fumiko Kikuchi. Every year Yuri painstakingly unwraps and displays some 70! sets of tiny OHina sama and other miniature wonders. She says that tweezers don’t work as they tend to slip when she is setting the pieces out, so every tiny princess and courtier has to be put in place by hand. There must be thousands of figures, each set has a different setting: a tansu, a table, an alcove, a different room. She says she sets them out in a day when things go well. Does putting them away take longer? I wonder? How can she remember which tiny doll goes in which tiny box?
Yuri generously invites all her friends, and they wouldn’t miss the delicious feast for eyes and stomach! – to one of many O Hina sama lunches she gives each year, served on the wonderfully variegated dishes that her 91 year old Mother has made. Gracefully presented and unsurpassably delicious, Yuri’s cuisine and hospitality make us all feel like princesses when it is time to go home and reluctantly return to reality.