By Tshegofatso Motsuenyane
On March 3rd, Japan will celebrate Hinamatsuri, also known as ‘Girls Day’ or ‘Dolls Day.’ It is an annual religious festival where families pray for the health and happiness of their young daughters. Families usually celebrate by displaying hina dolls and eating traditional sweets such as Hishi-mochi (a tiered rice cake) and hina-arare (colored rice puffs). However, different regions in Japan also have their own unique traditional sweets that are only eaten during Hinamatsuri. Below are some examples of such sweets.
Hishi-mochi is a rhombus-shaped rice cake with three layers. The pink layer is jasmine-flavored, the white layer is infused with water chestnuts and the green layer is flavored with mugwort. In some regions, hishi-mochi can have up to seven layers.
Nagasaki Prefecture – Momo (Peach) Castella
Portuguese merchants first introduced Castella sponge cake to Nagasaki in the 16th century. It is now a specialty of Nagasaki. The Castella is cut into a peach shape, decorated with marzipan and sweet bean paste, and then decorated to look like a peach. Peaches have long been a symbol of luck and longevity in China. Therefore Momo Castella is also a symbol of good luck. In Nagasaki City, Momo Castella is gifted to relatives or close friends with a baby girl on her first Hinamatsuri celebration. However, anyone can eat it.
Momo (Peach) Castella
Kyoto Prefecture – Hichigiri
Hichigiri is a colorful sweet that is usually torn-off at one end. Its torn-off characteristic is said to have originated from the Heian period when imperial palace workers were overwhelmed with the amount of mochi they had to serve to guests. So, instead of neatly rolling and cutting the mochi, they just tore off small pieces and served it as is. Because Hinamatsuri is celebrated on the third day of the third month, the third layer (red bean paste) is sometimes hidden in the base. Lastly, the Hichigiri is topped with colored kinton– noodle-like pureed beans.
Inaba region, Tottori Prefecture – Oiri
Oiri means ‘roasted rice.’ It was traditionally made to avoid wasting food. Long ago, families in the Inaba region would wash, dry, and then roast any leftover rice. The roasted rice was mixed with starch syrup and any other leftover ingredients, then formed into a bale shape while hot. Other leftover household ingredients were also mixed with the rice. Today, it is made with various types of puffed rice and flour. Oiri from the Inaba region is generally left uncolored; however, in some stores, it may be green or pink.
Matsue, Shimane Prefecture – Hanamochi
Hanamochi, or ‘flower rice cakes,’ have been around for centuries in Matsue. However, after the war, the tradition of making Hanamochi died down. Until locals in Matsue took it upon themselves to revive it. Special unglazed molds are used to make cute and unique shapes such as turtles and peaches and filled with a sweet bean paste. The different shapes are considered lucky charms by the locals.
Mikawa region, Aichi prefecture – Igamanju
Igamanju is a simple steamed bun filled with red bean paste and sprinkled with white, green, yellow, or pink rice grains. Iga means ‘burr’. The colorful rice on the bun resembles the burrs on a chestnut, hence its name. Other regions in Japan make similar sweets, but very few of them eat Igamanju specifically during Hinamatsuri.
These are just some of the traditional Hinamatsuri sweets rarely heard of outside their respective prefectures. We hope you enjoyed learning about them! If you happen to find yourself in one of these prefectures during Hinamatsuri, why not give them a try? Other unique and interesting treats worth looking into include: