Preparations for 雛祭りHina Matsuri are made days in advance with homes, streets and shop fronts exhibiting the ornamental 雛人形hina ningyou dolls on lavish red-tiered display stands that date back to centuries of tradition. An elaborate display comprises of the Emperor and Empress dolls positioned at the very top, followed by their three court ladies, five musicians then their three ministers. This day is, thus, also known as the Doll Festival.
A mild sweet sake wine, accompanied by particular foods is often consumed during this time. My favorite course is the traditionalうしおじろushiojiro soup made with kombu, dry kelp and clams. The symbolism of the clams is simply gorgeous.
In addition to ornamental dolls and peach blossoms, clams are also traditionally associated with today’s festival. A whole clam represents a perfect pair where one shell will not fit any other except its original half, signifying unity and harmony in a couple.
Model and television-personality SHELLY originates from such a family of only girls. (SHELLY is written in capital letters as her trademark). SHELLY’s family, however, comprises of daughters over two generations with SHELLY’s mother, Sueko, also having only sisters. Discovered by a talent scout when she was fourteen years of age, SHELLY began her career appearing in various fashion magazines in Japan which later led to radio and television work. Born to an American father and Japanese mother, SHELLY is bilingual and well known for the popular English language-learning program Little Charo as well as television shows such as U-La-La and Itadakimasu. Previously, she had also appeared on NHK International Channel as the host of Itadakimasu, an overseas program that differs from the domestic show of the same name. Such exposure has gained her an even wider following. Currently, SHELLY hosts the international economy television program, ジパング, Zipangu on NHK. Since the beginning of 2014, SHELLY has often been in the news in Japan following her marriage on January 18th to a television program director.
I used to work with SHELLY’s mother, Sueko, in Tokyo and we would have lunch together every Wednesdays at our favorite restaurant nearby. Reflecting on our dialogues through spring, summer, autumn and winter, what struck me most was the strength and closeness of Sueko and SHELLY’S family ties. The sisters of both generations share an incredible friendship and maintain conversations that flow from one year to the next, from this decade to the other. There is a certain happiness that sisters who share such strong kinship only know, I think. In recognition of such remarkable harmony and connection through two generations of daughters and sisters, I asked Sueko about some of their family’s traditions during Hina Matsuri –
Trang: How your family has been celebrating this day for past generations? Do you do anything special?
Sueko: I usually cook something special for my girls. When they all lived at home, I cooked for them everyday but during Hina Matsuri, I prepare a variety of food according to the girls’ requests. Chirashizushi (ちらしずし) is a traditional food for Hina Matsuri, so we also have that with our meal. With different dishes to make, I do spend a bit of time in the kitchen, but these days it’s not too difficult to make chirashizushi as you can get a chirashizushi mix at a store that you just add to cooked rice then decorate with raw fish and different toppings.
We take out the Hina dolls from storage and set them up in the living room. However, you have to put away the dolls soon after the Hina Matsuri is over because according to an old saying, if you don’t put away the dolls soon after, your daughter will be on the shelf longer. Well, nowadays, some parents prefer this I guess…
When my girls were kids, we opened up a bottle of kids’ champagne and did “Kampai”, you know raise our glasses and toasted each other, “Cheers”! We still do this for my granddaughter, Sophia, but since my daughters are all grown now, we also open up a bottle of wine.
We celebrate Hina Matsuri no matter how old my girls get so they try to come home on this day. SHELLY’s second eldest sister is living in the USA, though, so she won’t be able to make it home this year.
S: I am working today so I’ve asked Tina, SHELLY’s eldest sister, to go grocery shopping and get all the ingredients we need so that once I get home I can get to cooking straight away. Tina and I will cook together and make dishes according to my girls’ requests. We’ll make something special for Sophia, too, whatever she asks for. Like every year, I’ll get a bottle of kids’ champagne for Sophia and wine for the older girls. Sometimes simple traditions are the best.
In celebration of all girls around the world and in recognition of our sisters, daughters, nieces, Happy Hina Matsuri!
Did you do anything special on March 3rd this year?
Are there simple traditions that you observe every year in your own home?
[Photo source: All photos of family and home celebration provided by SHELLY & Sueko Eilers]