Kitchen Culture

tasty tidbits from the Japanese Home Kitchen


Hina Matsuri    Doll's Day Festival

For ancient agrarian societies, quirky winter weather – occasional warm days followed by blizzards and icy rain – was more than just an inconvenience or topic of casual conversation. A sudden sleet storm could mean severe crop damage, even failure. Many ancient cultures developed pre-spring farming rites to insure successful autumn harvests. In Japan the origins of Hina Matsuri, Doll's Day Festival, are linked to such a ritual.


The third day of the third month (originally calculated by the lunar calendar) was believed to be the best time to prepare the earth for new life to grow. Farmers and villagers would make simple paper dolls to which they would "attach" their troubles and fears. They would then float the dolls down rivers beginning to swell with melted snow. By the 17th century, dolls made by townspeople were so beautifully crafted, it seemed a shame to let them float away. The thrifty-minded merchants of Edo (the former name for Tokyo) began to save the dolls, displaying them each year in lieu of sending them downstream.

There are, however, still a few places in Japan where the custom of  nagashi-bina (literally, “float away dolls”) persists.

Various dishes are associated with Doll's Day celebrations. One of these is TEMARI SUSHI, small clusters of sushi rice topped with various foods. This style of sushi is so named because the small spheres resemble decorative balls of string called temari (pictured below, left)

Miniature items are often referred to as "hina." HINA TEMARI are one-bite sushi morsels. I call them Pom- Pom Sushi.  The vegetarian version can be found in KANSHA, Celebrating Japan's Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions (10 Speed press, 2010) on page 43.

The perfect accompaniment to the sushi is USHIO-JIRU, a clear clam broth. Click here to download a recipe