Celebrate girl power the way Japan does with the annual Girls’ Day.

March is the month for Hina Matsuri, or “Girls’ Day,” the day when parents of girls display a set of beautiful dolls in their homes to wish for the health and success of their children. The dolls are usually laid out sometime in February in preparation for the official day, March 3. These dolls wear decorative robes similar to the ones worn by the graceful women of the ancient Imperial court, and they come in all sizes and price points. The most ornate displays include dozens of dolls arranged on a seven-layer platform, with the highest-status dolls on the top tier, and the whole group surrounded by detailed accessories, like paper lanterns and lacquer drawers. Simpler sets include just the emperor and empress, which are also the two most important dolls.

A long time ago, paper cut-outs of these doll figures were placed on small river boats and sent out to sea each year. This tradition is known as Hina nagashi, or “Doll Floating.” This was done to ward off any curses or diseases, which could be transferred to the dolls through special rituals. Of course, not everybody could afford to purchase fancy dolls. For the common folk, families invented another way to celebrate Girls’ Day: tsurushi bina, tiny dolls made of kimono pieces that were sewn into all kinds of shapes, including flowers, animals, vegetables and babies.

These tiny dolls were strung together and hung from the ceiling as decoration.

Both of these traditions still exist today in some form. You can still see the Doll Floating tradition at places like Wakayama’s Awashima Shrine, where, after the ceremony, all the dolls are collected and burned. Tsurushi bina are now often lovingly handmade by mothers or grandmothers and hung from the ceiling, an umbrella or a branch. And even though dolls are more affordable for everyday folks, many families these days tend to be practical, choosing smaller sets that better fit their lifestyles, whether it be in small-scale houses or apartments. Families also like to decorate their homes with peach blossoms, which typically bloom right around the holiday. And when the festival is done for the year, families store the dolls away, taking them out in February and putting them away on March 4. Like living members of the family, the dolls stay with each girl until they reach adulthood.

Hina Matsuri also comes with all sorts of delicious food. Chirashizushi, or “scattered sushi,” is the most common, a delicious combination of veggies, egg and seafood scattered over sushi rice. You can also find an array of tasty desserts, like hina arare, sweet rice crackers, and the girls themselves are presented with desserts in celebration of this special day. Desserts are also placed before the dolls as an offering, and the family spends the day together.

Get some girl power

Want to throw a Hina Matsuri for your own little girls? Just follow these simple rules.

DO take the dolls down on March 4

Leaving them up any longer could bring bad luck for your girls.

DO NOT play with the dolls

Despite appearances, these dolls are ceremonial only!

DO celebrate with boys

No need to leave them out! Why not toast your male children with drinks and snacks?

Illustration by Chieko Watanabe