On a Sunday in February, I went to the Hinamatsuri in Makabe, a village located north of Tsukuba.

Hinamatsuri is the “Dolls festival”, a special day on March 3rd where families pray for their daughter’s good future. For that occasion, a set of “hina”-dolls is displayed on a leveled platform which is covered by a red carpet. The dolls are only ornamental, that means they are not used to play with. The faces and hands, the hairdo and the clothes are very sophisticated and look very delicate. No wonder that the dolls can be very expensive, an article I read cited a price of 1 Mio Yen for a complete set, that corresponds to around 10,000 $.

02-22_44_MakabeSeeing it for the first time, a hina platform can look rather complicated, as they contain also many accessories and furnitures. However, the placement order of all items is quite fixed, the hinamatsuri article on Wikipedia f.ex. gives a detailed description of the dolls and accessories on each level.

For a 7-step platform, the order of the dolls is as follows:

  • level 1: emperor and empress
  • level 2: three court ladies
  • level 3: five male musicians
  • level 4: two ministers (one is young, the other is old)
  • level 5: three helpers or samurai
  • level 6: furniture
  • level 7: furniture

Sometimes, the platform has more or less levels, I guess depending on how complete the set is. However, with this short list, on should be able to identify the dolls of smaller sets also.

Now you might wonder how someone who does not have a hina doll set to display, and/or no daughter should celebrate that holiday. It seems indeed to be a private holiday, celebrated within families. However, some towns and villages show their hina dolls to the public. Mostly shops, but also private homes are open to the curious visitors from beginning of February to March 3rd (it seems to be a bad omen to leave the dolls out after that day).

The village Makabe is maybe the most famous place around Tsukuba to enjoy hinamatsuri. More than 100 shops and houses have hina doll displays and on weekends, the two main roads are closed for cars, so pedestrians can enjoy strolling through the village. By car is maybe the best way to go there, although also special buses operate on weekends (I find them rather expensive, though). Parking is free at the Makabe city hall, where some town employees (or volunteers) distributed maps of the village and lists of the open houses. From the city hall, it is a 10-15 min walk to the streets with the displays.

I can garantuee, if you go to Makabe, you can get enough of hina dolls for the next 12 months or even several years. There are so many, it is impossible to see all the displays on one afternoon. Most sets look very similar, but some are very creative or their style is a bit different. Click on a picture below to open the galery and enjoy my favourite hina doll displays found in Makabe.