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Japanese celebrate festivals with traditional dolls displays

Posted on 01/27/2020 at 10:30 AM by Betsy Grabinski

By Sarah Bartlett, Pohlman Fellow 


In Japan, there are more than 200,000 festivals. Of these festivals, there are five seasonal festivals that were carried over from the ancient Chinese tradition, Gosekku. Included in these is Hinamatsuri or Girls' Day, which commonly use dolls in the celebration. 


Girls' Day occurs on March 3 and it aims to promote the health and wellbeing of young girls in Japan. A popular practice when celebrating this festival is the doll display. 


Since the late 1600s, in honor of the celebration of Girls' Day, Japanese girls have been showing heirloom dolls on red clothed ceremonial steps. The girls, ranging in age from seven to seventeen, set up a doll display in their home and act as hostesses for visiting friends and relatives who offer praise and congratulation. 


The typical display is 7 tiers and includes the emperor and empress, ladies in waiting, court guards, and various objects that represent a woman's dowry. Passed on from generation to generation, the ceremonial dolls become a family tradition of the household. The dolls are brought out for the holiday and shown in the best room of the house, then carefully stored away until the following March and arrival of the next Girls' Festival.


Two sets of Japanese festival dolls, one of which is for Girls' Day, are currently on exhibit in the Contemplate Japan exhibition in the Brunnier Art Museum. This set of dolls was collected in the 1950s by Ann Brunnier, then gifted to the University Museums as part of the original doll collection.



Image Left: The typical doll festival display is seven tiers, with the emperor and empress on the top.


Image Right: The flute (fue) player is part of the third tier of five musicians(gonin bayashi).


Sarah Bartlett is a senior at Iowa State, working on a BS in Anthropology and Classical Studies and a BA in Political Science. She was selected last spring as the first student for the Lynette Pohlman Museum Fellowship, a scholarship established through the estate of Lori A. Jacobson. As part of her fellowship, Bartlett has been working closely with University Museums Director and Chief Curator Lynette Pohlman on the Contemplate JapanExhibition at the Brunnier Art Museum.

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