Hinamatsuri, or Girl’s Day, is celebrated in Japan on March 3rd each year. The day has origins in the activity of doll floating, where straw made dolls were floated out to sea taking bad spirits and bad luck with them. Doll floating had to be stopped as it ruined fishing for a good few days, and we all appreciate how important fish is to Japan!
Now the day is celebrated with doll displays popping up at various historic places. The dolls sit on a red carpet with the dolls representing the imperial people residing at the top. Each level holds dolls of different significance and their placements are considered from left to right.
Recently, Dan and I ventured to our closest local doll festival in Chofu old town. Chofu old town is steeped in history, being the base for the samurai who overthrew the feudal government in the Edo period (1860s). We fancied a day wandering through the old streets, admiring dolls and eating traditional Japanese jelly.
Our first stop was a traditional coffee shop where we anxiously pointed at unclear pictures on a board to order. We had no idea whether fish, soup or cake was on its way to us. Turns out, we had, unwittingly but later pleasingly, ventured into a very traditional cafe. What appeared was coffee, mochi and red bean paste for me, and a bowl of green tea and translucent jelly for Dan topped with dates, apricots, mochi, bean paste and brown sugar sauce. If you don’t know, mochi is rice that has been pounded to form a smooth, sticky paste that is used as a sweet in Japan. Red bean paste is exactly as you would expect; it is kidney beans that have been cooked with sugar and are a sweet sauce / side in Japan, and one of your five a day, I assume. It tasted…traditional…and not horrible! We agreed it was very much worth the experience, but perhaps won’t be on our top-favourite-foods-of-Japan list.
However, the experience did spark some googling on the jelly, as I have never tasted a jelly like it! Turns out this kind of jelly is pretty famous as a traditional Japanese sweet dish. Restaurants all over Japan experiment with flavours, but green tea, plain and coffee remain the most traditional. The jelly often has sweets or flowers suspended in it (I can only imagine there will be many cherry blossom versions on their way to a store near you soon…). I fact, an adventurous restaurant in Tokyo recently released their savoury jelly…plain jelly with chicken suspended inside…only in Tokyo!
Post-jelly surprises we took a stroll and visited the Iminomiya Shrine to dance amongst chickens and children before heading to Chofu’s popular walled garden. The garden is traditionally Japanese and used to be the home of a high-ranking samurai. On arrival we politely accepted a whole load of detail from the woman at the entrance in Japanese, whilst understanding little. We paid our 200 yen and off we went. First stop, the incredible central building which had a doll making workshop and some of the best dolls I have seen! Our particular favourite was the Finding-Nemo scene…well worth a visit to coo over the cute stuffed toy versions of the baby turtles we all fondly remember from this movie (which by the way, I don’t mean to alarm you, but was released in 2003…2003!!! That makes it 14 years old…how is that even possible? This has to stop.)
After more dolls we took a slightly alternative Lorrie route to the top of the garden, uncovering a shrine I am certain no one else knows about, and venturing through some bamboo that in my book rivals that in Ayrashiyama. After our tree hugging success in Nagaksaki, we took a moment to hug some bamboo, hoping to connect with nature again. It wasn’t quite as satisfying, and in the words of Dan: “this is what it must feel like to hug Kiera Knightly.”
Our day of doll festivals, traditional sweets and history concluded with a not-so-traditional french eggy-bread delight, which came with three tons of sugar and a whole lemon. Mmmm, thanks tasty Chofu!