February 11, 2010
June 06, 2010
In time for Girls Day, held the third day of the third month, the Academy presents three sets of dolls from the Edo-Meiji
(1868-1912) periods. The exhibition celebrates this gift from the Tsuji family, which collected the dolls in the early 20th century and donated them to the museum in 2002, and is the Academy’s way of offering the community wishes for an auspicious spring season.
Girls Day originated as hina matsuri (Doll Festival) or momo no sekku (Peach Festival), one of Japan’s most important annual festivals. This celebration finds its origins in ancient Chinese ceremonies dating to the Zhou dynasty (ca. 1050 BC-256 BC), in which female shamans (wu) would purify their communities of negative influences by driving them away on flowing water. According to one early Chinese source, “In the third month when the peach blossoms are on the water, it is a custom in the state of Zheng (modern Henan province) to conduct the Third Month High Ceremony…Grasping orchids, [the shamans] call upon departed souls, sweeping away the inauspicious.” Another early account adds, “During the Third Month High Ceremony, the officials and the people all cleanse themselves in eastward flowing water, washing to eliminate lingering impurities.”
This custom entered Japan by the Heian period (794-1185), when in a ceremony known as hina nagashi (“doll floating”), dolls symbolizing the negative energies of the past winter were set adrift on boats to the sea, giving a fresh start to the new spring. This custom still survives, most notably at Shimogamo Shrine, one of Kyoto’s oldest Shinto shrines. A time when the young people of a community could interact more freely than usual, the date has become best known as Girls’ Day, which, together with Boys’ Day (fifth day of the fifth month), celebrates the children of Japan.
During the Edo period (1615-1868), girls began to collect sets of dolls that were displayed on tiered platforms during the celebrations surrounding the third day of the third month. Often quite elaborate, these sets represent the imperial court of the Heian period, complete with Emperor, Empress, and a retinue of courtiers. —SHAWN EICHMAN, CURATOR OF ASIAN ART