clam (n) – a type of shellfish that has a shell in two parts that can open and close
samurai (n) – ancient warrior in Japan
In Japan, there are two children’s festivals. Every year, the festival for girls is on March 3. The festival for boys falls on May 5. These festivals have been celebrated for hundreds of years.
The “Girls’ Day” festival, is also known as “Hinamatsuri” (Doll Festival). This is because families with daughters display a doll set in February. On March 3, families pray for the health and happiness of their daughters. Soon after, the doll set must be put away. There is a belief that if the set is displayed past March 4, the daughter will marry late in life.
The hand-made doll sets are handed from mother to daughter. A set can also be bought for a girl by parents or grandparents for her first festival. Central figures of the doll set are the emperor and empress. A doll set can feature just the emperor or empress. A full set can depict the pair’s wedding, complete with court ladies, lords and musicians. This is displayed on a step-like platform covered with red cloth.
On the festival day, the family will enjoy special sweets such as diamond-shaped rice cakes and colourful rice crackers. There is a colour theme for the festival’s foods. For example, the rice cake has three layers. The bottom green layer stands for the spring season, the white layer is for long life while the top pink layer is for health. The puffed rice crackers have the same colours. Other foods eaten on this day are sushi and clam soup.
In the past, the May 5 festival was only for boys. But in 1948, the Japanese government made this a national holiday to celebrate the happiness of all children and renamed the festival “Children’s Day”. On this day, families pray that their sons will have courage and good health. The tradition dates back to the 1200s and was part of samurai culture.
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