Hinamatsuri: Japanese Girls’ Day

For Girls’ Day (Hinamatsuri) when I was growing up, my mother and I would make a display of dolls we had. I still don’t have the Emperor/Empress dolls that some people have, but I still do have these Japanese dolls.

I like dolls in theory. I don’t like them in home decor. That is, I don’t like looking at dolls all the time. So I have these stored for most of the year and break them out for March 3.

I saw these tree branches blooming on a bunch of trees at someone’s house, so I asked the homeowner if i could take a few. She said yes.


The pink doll belongs to my oldest daughter.



The boy and girl are standing in for the Prince and Princess. The porcelain doll in the front is another doll I’ve had for as long as I can remember. She doesn’t look particularly royal, but we can’t leave anyone out.

This doll below has real human hair. I forget what kind of doll she’s supposed to be.


My mother kept the samurai dolls in a glass case on her dresser. The case fell apart, and I never got a new one. I always loved looking at these dolls and wanted desperately to play with them. These dolls are wearing real silks and have real human hair; their skin is silk, their features are handpainted, and their hands work. They are very detailed, with a working fan, hair pins, and a hidden dagger for the samurai woman, in her sleeve.



On Girls Day, you can celebrate with traditional pink food, as well as a variety of other delicacies. I didn’t go up to the Japanese market to see if they had this. In fact, I didn’t know it existed, because my mom never made pink food. (Click on the photo to read more about it).

You could always modernize the foods, like justJENN did with her cupcakes topped by a piece of chichi dango. Super cute! Click the photo to get to her site and recipe.

In my family, we just put the dolls out. One time, I had a tea party with my little tea set and invited a couple of neighbor girls over, and that was a huge deal to me. I think my mom made little sandwiches for us. If I plan ahead next year, it would be fun for my girls to do that, too.

Boys’ Day is May 5. Wikipedia tells me that it was changed to Children’s Day in 1948, but we always called it Boys Day. My brother had a mini metal samurai helmet he displayed for the occasion. It sat on a red and gold satin silk pillow. This year, we bought son a carp flag to fly. You are also supposed to have a Kintaro doll, which is a boy riding a carp like so. I have never seen a Kintaro doll before. As I told someone at a recent talk, most of what I know about Japanese culture came directly through my mother, so my knowledge is limited (and sometimes I didn’t know if what she did was different than other Japanese in other regions).

Click on the photo to read about Boys’ Day decorations and what they signify. The whole site talks about Omamori, Japanese amulets; it also has essays and lists folk art toys from different regions. Very interesting stuff. Sometimes I find exactly what I need, accidentally, from working on this blog!


Touching Fan Mail

Having a novel published has been very exciting, but it’s even more exciting when people actually connect with your work. Authors spend so much time alone, it’s really hard to tell if anyone besides you will like your work.

Since the book came out, I’ve been getting the occasional fan e-mail, which always brightens my day. This one in particular stood out and made me feel as though my book is somewhat of a positive force.  I wanted to share it.


I have never wrote to an author before, but I wanted to tell you how much your book touched my soul. I felt like you had written my life story!

My mother was born in Japan, met my American GI father and married, was disowned by her family, came to the states and had me and my brother. We are both Hapa. I have to tell you one of the funniest parts of the book was when Sue talked about how people thought she was Mexican! I cannot tell you how many times someone has asked me if I was Mexican!

I am not close to my mother and have always felt like she never understood me, was very critical, etc. As an adult I distanced myself from her and only spent the minimum amount of time I had to spend with her.

Your book was very eye opening to me. As selfish as this sounds, I never really thought about my what my mom may have gone thru or sacrificed before her life here. I am sure she had to change her own values, beliefs, dreams, etc to be accepted here.

To hear things from Shoko’s point of view it made me think back to the things my mother has said or done and I saw it from a whole new perspective and respect.

I could go on and on about all of the similarities and things I loved and learned from your book, but really I just want to say thank you for your book. I am buying a copy for my mother tomorrow when I take her to lunch and hope it makes her think a little differently about me too.

I know. (Reaches for the Kleenex box.)

I’m glad I didn’t give up.

What did Burakumin look like?

In my novel, I have a character who is one of the “untouchables” of Japan, an Eta, or Burakumin. These were the leatherworkers who were deemed untouchable by Buddhist vegetarians.

Eta were discriminated against though it was outlawed. Apparently even today,some people look into family backgrounds to make sure there are no untouchables in families before marriages take place.

Wanting to know what they actually looked like, I found this image on Flickr from the Tom Burnett collection.

1873 Japanese Leather Workers (burakumin)
1873 Japanese Leather Workers (burakumin)

I’m wondering, like the folks who commented in the link’s comments, why this outcast status did not apply to fishermen or, in particular, whalers since whales are mammals. Discrimination, it seems, is always hypocritical.