A Celebration of Dolls


Today is Hinamatsuri, the Japanese festival of dolls, also known as Girls’ Day or Dolls’ Day. It is a day to celebrate girls in Japan as well as to enjoy the dolls, and traditionally parents would pray for girls’ health and happiness. Most families have ‘hina-ningyo’, ‘special dolls’, that represent an Emperor, Empress and their court of the Heian period (974-1185), complete with ladies-in-waiting and musicians, which are displayed on a red tiered display, although nowadays many girls own an abbreviated form of the full set as there is often not room at home for them all. The sets are very important to a girl, can be extremely costly and are often passed down as heirlooms. If a little girl does not have one passed down to her then her parents or grandparents will buy her a set as a gift for her first Hinamatsuri, ‘hatsu-zekku’. They are not left up for very long because there is a tradition that says that if they are not taken down and put away promptly after 3rd March then the girl will marry late. According to Namiko Abe, the origin of the festival is in the idea that sin and bad luck can be transferred from a person onto a doll, which is then put into a river, releasing the negativity from the person. Some Japanese people still practice ‘hina-okuri’ when paper dolls are floated down the river on the day of the Doll Festival. When I was about 5 I had a Japanese school-friend who was living in the UK for a few years for her father’s job. She invited us around to see her hina-ningyo, which I still remember and I have a photo of my family with the dolls, which my daughters liked looking at.

My elder daughter loves dolls, as did I. She loves all sorts of dolls: dolls’ houses and their inhabitants; china dolls; baby dolls; littl2016 up to September 071.JPGe girl dolls. She is also very interested in Japanese culture so last year we celebrated Hinamatsuri at home. In actual fact, it was a little late as my daughter was ill on the day itself and we postponed it a week, which really didn’t matter. We made our Emperor, Empress and their court from wooden pegs and little wooden figures rather like these and used pipe cleaners for arms. We made costumes from Japanese-style fat quarters from Hobbycraft and used some craft tape as obi sashes for the Emperor and Empress. We covered some boxed in red crepe paper to make display tiers. Little hair knots were made from2016-up-to-september-074 black Fimo and then glued onto the dolls’ heads. We even started to make some instruments for the musicians out of cut and painted corks.

My daughters invited a friend around and they all had a go at making their own Japanese dolls that evening. The friend enjoyed it a lot and they took their dolls in to show the rest of their class the next day (along with the embarrassing photo of me!). I created a little bit of atmosphere by making tissue paper blossom and burning a cherry blossom scented candle. We also enjoyed a Japanese-ish meal, eaten at a low table. I bought some 2016-up-to-september-075vegetarian sushi from the Japanese noodle bar in our local high street which also sells bento boxes and other Japanese food and drink. I didn’t have a lot of time to spend on preparations so I got a couple of terriyaki pork skewers from Marks and Spencer’s, along with some Asian-style salads. I cut cucumber into flower shapes and served flavoured tea drinks. They tried using chopsticks which is always a novelty! For dessert I again went for the spirit of the occasion rather than authenticity; I made some little marzipan flower sweets, bought some Mr Kipling French Fancies for the colours (no one ever eats them!) and bought a perfect blossom and butterfly cake from Waitrose as a centre-piece. I had got some kokeshi dolls from Baker Ross in their sale and each girl got one of the set of three to keep as a memento of the party.2016-up-to-september-077

All in all it was a lovely evening so we are keen to have another Hinamatsuri this year. As we have after-school activities on a Friday we will be holding it tomorrow and this year we are having a festival of our own dolls rather than a specifically Japanese celebration. They have invited another friend and her doll around for a dolls’ tea party. My daughter was very keen that we should have party favours again so I have ordered some tiny woodland fairies from Myriad Natural Toys and Crafts. I am sure we could have made some ourselves and might well do when we have more time but at the moment we are too busy. I ordered them at just before midnight on Wednesday and they arrived today which was excellent service. I think my daughters might become a bit addicted to these little fairy people if I am not careful!

As well as playing with dolls I always loved reading books about dolls and my elder daughter does too. Below are some of our favourite books about dolls:

  • The Fairy Doll and Other Tales from the Dolls’ House by Rumer Godden. Rumer Godden has written several wonderful tales about dolls and they are all collected in this beautiful edition, illustrated by the always-fabulous Jane Ray. It includes Godden’s books about Japanese dolls (Miss Happiness and Miss Flower and Little Plum) which were what first interested my daughter in Japan and Hinamatsuri.
  • The Enchanted Doll’s House and The Enchanted Doll’s House Wedding by Robyn Johnson. These are very visual books which are more about the aesthetics of each dolls’ house or shop portrayed rather than a strong story. There are lots of pop-out parts, flaps, and tiny detail.
  • The Doll’s House Fairy by Jane Ray. Okay, this one is strictly about a fairy who comes to live in a little girl’s dolls’ house rather than about actual dolls but it is so beautifully illustrated that I couldn’t leave it out. My younger daughter was a big fan and dressed up as the fairy for Book Week at school.
  • The Little Girl and the Tiny Doll by Aingelda and Edward Ardizzone. A sweet story about a little girl who finds a tiny doll in the freezer of a grocery shop, rescues her and looks after her.
  • The Mennyms series by Sylvia Waugh. This is a series about a family of life-sized rag-dolls and how they cope with life. It is quite an unusual premise but fascinating and a great read. I haven’t read the whole series so perhaps I must make that something to do this year…
  • The Doll People series by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin. The first books tells the story of the fragile Annabel and her new friend, the adventurous plastic doll. My elder daughter enjoyed it but hasn’t asked for the next book in the series.
  • Usborne Slot-Together Doll’s House. This isn’t really a book but my daughter really wanted this for Christmas in 2015 and loved putting it together and playing with it.
  • For a historical background to dolls then Dolls by Caroline Goodfellow is a great little book. My daughter loves reading it.
  • The Best-Loved Doll by Rebecca Caudill. As the title suggests this is a book about a girl and her favourite doll. I have ordered a second-hand copy because it’s one we haven’t read yet but, according to online reviews a lot of people adored this book as children so I thought it was worth a try in honour of Hinamatsuri.


Over the years we have also really enjoyed using dolls as a basis for activities and craft. Here are some of the fun ideas we have tried:

  • Who doesn’t love a dolls’ tea party? My daughter received a beautiful melamine tea set as a gift but little dolls’ teasets can be picked up very cheapimag0526ly from all sorts of places. You can hold your tea parties wherever you like. As I child I loved Shirley Hughes’ Sally’s Secret about the delight of having a secret house and holding a teaparty in it. Under a tree, under a table, in a tree house, in a box…
  • Make dolls’ food. Use different coloured sponges as colourful cakes and decorate with button and gem sprinkles. Or make tiny dolls’ chocolates with Fimo, then decorate a box to put them in. Giving the chocolates creative names and drawing up a chocolate box menu is also a lot of fun.
  • Make your own dolls’ houses. These can be as tiny as a matchbox or as large as you like. My daughter made a wonderful toadstool dolls house and another out of an old box for her La-La Loopsy dolls.
  • Make dolls’ clothes. With a little bit of fabric and a needle and thread most children can make some simple clothes for a doll, even if it just a scarf or a hankie!
  • Make your dolls the star of a photo-story or stop-animation.
  • Make peg dolls.




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