The Japanese Doll Festival (雛祭り Hina-matsuri), or Girls' Day, is held on March 3. Platforms covered with a red carpet are used to display a set of ornamental dolls (雛人形 hina-ningyo) representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians in traditional court dress of the Heian-era.
The custom of displaying dolls began during the Heian-era. Formerly, people believed the dolls possessed the power to contain bad spirits. Hinamatsuri traces its origins to an ancient Japanese custom called hina-nagashi (雛流し, lit. "doll floating"), in which straw hina dolls are set afloat on a boat and sent down a river to the sea, supposedly taking troubles or bad spirits with them. The Shimogamo Shrine (part of the Kamo Shrine complex in Kyoto) celebrates the Nagashibina by floating these dolls between the Takano and Kamo Rivers to pray for the safety of children. People have stopped doing this now because of fishermen catching the dolls in their nets. They now send them out to sea, and when the spectators are gone they take the boats out of the water and bring them back to the temple and burn them.
The customary drink for the festival is shirozake, a sake made from fermented rice. A colored hina-arare, bite-sized crackers flavored with sugar or soy sauce depending on the region, and hishimochi, a diamond-shaped colored rice cake, are served. Chirashizushi (sushi rice flavored with sugar, vinegar, topped with raw fish and a variety of ingredients) is often eaten. A salt-based soup called ushiojiru containing clams still in the shell is also served. Clam shells in food are deemed the symbol of a united and peaceful couple, because a pair of clam shells fits perfectly, and no pair but the original pair can do so. Families generally start to display the dolls in February and take them down immediately after the festival. Superstition says that leaving the dolls past March 4 will result in a late marriage for the daughter.
The Hina matsuri is also celebrated in Florence (Italy), with the patronage of the Embassy of Japan, the Japanese Institute and the historical Gabinetto Vieusseux.
Joseph Alsop, in his pioneering work on the history of art collection provides, the following definition: “To collect is to gather objects belonging to a particular category the collector happens to fancy; and art collecting is a form of collecting in which the category is, broadly speaking, works of art.” (Scott, 2008). Japanese dolls, Hinamatsuri are broken down into several subcategories. Two of the most prominent are Girl’s Day, hina-ningy, and the Boy’s Day musha-ningyo, or display dolls, sagu-ningyo, gosho-ningyo, and isho-ningyo (Scott, 2008). Collections can be categorized by the material they are made of such as wood dolls kamo-ningyo and nara-ningyo and, clay forms such as fushimi-ningyo and Hakata ningyo.
In the nineteenth century ningyo were introduced to the West. Doll collecting has since become a popular pastime in the West (Scott, 2008). Famous well known collectors from the West include individuals such as James Tissot (1836–1902), Jules Adeline (1845–1909), Eloise Thomas (1907–1982), and Samuel Pryor (1898–1985). James Tissot was known to be a religious history painter. In 1862, after attending a London Exhibition, he was drawn to Japanese Art. During the 1860s Tissot, was known as one of most important collectors of Japanese art in Paris. His collections included kosode-style kimonos, paintings, bronze, ceramics, screens and a number bijan-nigyo (dolls from late Edo-era) (Scott, 2008). Adeline was known as a working artist and he is also known as “Mikika”. Adeline produced many works throughout his career as a working artist. He is best known for his “etchings” and received the Cross of the Legion of Honor for his Vieuex-Roven “Le Parvis Notre-Dame”. Unlike Tissot, Adeline is recognized as a true collector. A majority of Adeline’s collection consisted of ningyo, and only a few prints.