March 3rd is Japanese Girls' Day--also known as Doll's Festival--and is called Hina Matsuri in Japanese. People celebrate by displaying a set of Hina dolls in the house, praying for the health and happiness of their daughters. There are also special food delicacies that play a part, both for their beautiful appearance as well as their exotic tastes.
Traditionally, parents or grandparents of a newborn girl buy a set of gorgeous Hina dolls for the baby, unless they have special dolls that are inherited from generation to generation.
Usually, from the end of February to March 3, Hina dolls dressed in Japanese ancient costumes are displayed on tiered platforms that are covered with a red carpet. The costumed dolls represent the imperial court of the Heian period (794-1185), featuring the emperor, empress, attendants and musicians dressed in traditional garb, and are displayed hierarchically with the emperor and empress at the top, which are set in front of a gilded screen representing the thrown. The number of dolls and their size vary from home to home, but five to seven platforms are common.
The displaying of Hina dolls began in the early 1600s as a way to ward off evil spirits. It was thought that the dolls would act as good-luck charms. It is customary to put the dolls away as soon as the festival is over--there is a superstition that if the dolls are left out a family will have trouble marrying off their daughters.
After the festival, some people release paper dolls into the rivers praying that this will send away sickness and bad fortune.
As with almost all holidays, food and drink play a role on Girls' Day, with rice wine and rice cakes taking center stage, along with flower blossoms. Hina Matsuri is also called momo-no-sekku, which means a festival of peach blossoms.
Peach blossoms, shiro-zake (white fermented rice wine) and hishi-mochi (diamond-shaped rice cakes) are placed on the stand with the hina dolls. Hishi-mochi are colored in pink (representing peach flowers), white (representing snow) and green (representing new growth).
Traditionally, girls in Japan invited their friends to a home party to celebrate this festival. Many people still prepare a special meal for girls on this day, including savory dishes such as chirashi sushi, sugar-flavored sushi rice vinegar with raw fish on top and a variety of other ingredients; clam soup served in the shell; and edamame maze-gohan, a mixed rice.
Other popular dishes to serve at a Girl's Day celebration are inari sushi--rice-stuffed tofu pockets--miso grilled salmon and cabbage ramen salad. Of course, sweets are on the menu as well, many colored a pretty shade of pink, like chi chi dango, pink pillows of mochi (glutinous rice flour and coconut milk), a favorite among children, and sakura-mochi, a pink, sweet rice cake. For an impressive edible centerpiece try the layered chirashi sushi cake.