about Japanese Hina Dolls
If you ever have the chance to visit the museum,
look for Japanese dolls like these in Gallery 17 (Central Gallery),
on the 2nd Floor of the New Exhibition Hall.
Every year on March 3rd, Japan celebrates the Doll Festival (Japanese,
Hina Matsuri). Until recently, Girls' Day was also celebrated
on March 3rd. On this day every year, families set up a special
step-altar on which to arrange their Emperor and Empress dolls,
called "hina" in Japanese. They decorate this
altar with boughs of peach blossoms and make offerings to the hina
dolls of freshly made rice cakes (mochi), either flavored
with a wild herb or colored and cut into festive diamond shapes.
Here at the Kyoto National Museum, we hold an exhibition of dolls
every year sometime between February and April in celebration of
the Doll Festival.
If you ever come to the museum during the doll exhibition, you will
see three step-altars as you walk in the door. Look at the photos
of these three altars below.
In addition to dolls, these altars display many beautiful and luxurious
decorative accessories. Look again carefully at the three altars.
Can you see any things displayed on the two altars made in Kyoto
that are not on the altar made in Tokyo? The Kyoto-made altars have
miniature kitchens and hearths for cooking. You will never see such
objects on altars made in Tokyo because kitchen implements are a
specialty of doll sets made in Kyoto. Tokyo dolls have their own
specialties too; doll sets from Tokyo are tall with many steps.
They also have many chests, shelves and other furnishings to display
with the dolls. This kind of lavish exhibit is a Tokyo tradition
that has been handed down since the Edo period. In fact, Edo is
the old name for Tokyo. In the old days, you could quickly see the
difference in style between doll sets made in Tokyo and those made
in Kyoto. Today, however, these differences have almost disappeared.
Do you know when the tradition of displaying hina dolls on March
3rd began? Because the dolls are dressed like court nobles from
the Heian period (A.D. 794-1185), so you might think that the Doll
Festival is a very old holiday. In actuality, however, the festival
did not begin till the Edo period, in the 17th Century. The third
day of the third month of the year was a holiday in Japan before
that time, but there are no earlier records of doll displays on
The Edo period began in about A.D. 1615 and continued for about
270 years until 1868. Many different kinds of dolls were made over
this long period of time. Dolls that are standing up are called
tachi bina, or "standing dolls."
Tachi bina Dolls (Kyoto National Museum)
Standing dolls are a very old type of Japanese doll that continued
to be made during the Edo period.
Dolls that are sitting down are called suwari bina, or
"sitting dolls." Sitting dolls evolved during the Edo
period. There are many different categories of sitting dolls based
differences in form, face shape and clothing.
The oldest type of sitting doll is called "Kanei bina."
Look at the picture of two Kanei bina below.
The Kanei bina are little dolls. The Empress doll has
her arms spread apart, but her hands are hidden inside her sleeves.
She wears a very old style of Japanese outfit, with a pair of wide
culotte-like trousers called a hakama over her layers of
The second-oldest sitting doll category is the "Genroku
bina." Look at the picture of a set of Genroku bina
They look somewhat like the Kanei-bina, but they are a
little bigger. Can you see the difference between the Empress Genroku
bina above and the Empress Kanei bina? Do you see
how the Genroku bina is holding her hands out in front
of her? Her clothing is different too. She is wearing an outfit
similar to the twelve-layered court costume of the Heian period,
called a juni hito'e.
These Kanei bina and Genroku bina were made in
the 17th century, during the first half of the Edo period. At this
time, the dolls came in sets of one or two and were displayed simply
on a low, one or two-stepped platform with a "hina screen"
In the years to come, the size of the dolls grew as a new kind
of hina doll, known as the "Kyoho bina,"
Kyoho bina Dolls (Kyoto National Museum)
Other popular dolls were the round-faced "Jirozaemon"
and the "Yusoku bina," whose costumes perfectly
reflect the special clothing worn by courtiers.
By the late Edo period, it became popular to decorate the top steps
of the altars with lavish pavilions. In Edo (Tokyo), the doll altars
were often built seven or eight steps high! By the time the "Kokin
bina," shown below, became popular, it had become the
tradition to display other dolls below the imperial pair. Among
these were the Three Court Ladies (Sannin Kanjo) dolls
and Five Musicians (Gonin bayashi). Their additions made
the Doll Festival displays more lavish than ever, creating a style
that is still seen today.
(Kyoto National Museum)
Text by Shigeki Kawakami, Department of Applied Arts
Illustrations by Satoshi Ichida, Department of Public Relations
English translation by Melissa M. Rinne, Department of Archives