Friday, March 03, 2006

Doll Festival

Hamaguri no Ushiojiru (Clear Clam Soup)

We celebrate hinamatsuri (doll festival) in Japan today, and I thought about making some special dishes for that. I was almost going for these doll-shaped onigiri (rice balls) that many Japanese moms make for their daughters on hinamatsuri day. But I was tired after my izakaya work, and one of my colleagues gave me leftover sushi, so my enthusiasm for cooking just faded out on my way back from work. The only hinamatsuri-related dish I made was this clear clam soup. Why clams are associated with girls’ festival? Well, I heard that clams symbolize things like virtue and marital fidelity. (Why should these qualities required only for women?)

BTW, there was one thing that I didn’t know until today. In my childhood, when my parents took out the special dolls to celebrate hinamatsuri for me and my sister, they always argued about the position of the obina (emperor doll) and mebina (empress doll) --- about which should be on the right and which should be on the left. I thought there was only one right answer, and my family was pretty stupid not being able to memorize it, but there was a good reason for the confusion: there was more than one answer.

What I found out today was that in most areas in Japan, the emperor doll is displayed on the left (our left = the doll’s right) and the empress on the right (our right = doll’s left). But in Kyoto, they are displayed the other way around, and it is the traditional way.

According to several Japanese websites I’ve read, in our ancient belief, the left side was considered superior, thus, about 1000 years ago, when the emperor and empress sat side-by-side, the emperor was always on the left side with empress being on his right. Hina ningyo (dolls for hinamatsuri) followed the same rule, so the emperor doll was on our right (doll's left) and empress on our left (doll's right). However in the modern era, when Japan adopted “international protocol” and the photos of the emperor and empress conformed to it, the hinamatsuri custom was altered accordingly throughout Japan, EXCEPT Kyoto.

So today, in most of the TV commercials of hina ningyo, we see the modern way of displaying them, but when we see photos of very traditional hinamatsuri customs in Kyoto, often introduced in books about Japanese traditions, we see it the other way around. No wonder many of us are confused. I’m glad --- It was not that our family was exceptionally stupid. :)



K and S said...

didn't know that about the hinaningyo. Thanks for sharing.

Travis said...

this is the kind of stuff that, no longer how long you live in the country, if you don't have a japanese family, you will never learn. Thanks for the anecdote.

Incidentally, I always like to watch Kurosawa's 'Dreams' (Yume) for it's hina matsuri dream (it is the second one) It's fun to see them come alive, and next time I watch I'll be sure to watch which doll is on which side!

Jennie Durren said...

I like the tradition of the hinaningyo. It almost makes me wish I had a daughter, but of course the dolls are very expensive, aren't they?

I took sakura mochi to my Japanese class. (I tried to write about it on my blog but I'm never sure if things are understandable there....)

The clam soup looks delicious. I love the bowl, too!

FooDcrazEE said...

its so clear and i guess it will be sweet... how ilove fresh clam soup

obachan said...

I didn't know, either.

Well, I have a typical Japanese family, but I didn't know this until now. Live and learn.

Yeah, they are expensive! @_@ If you buy a whole set with all the dolls and decorations to be displayed on the seven-tiered shelf, it'd be more than US$800 to 900, or even more.

BTW, the bowl was from 100yen shop.

obachan said...

Sweet?? Yeah... I guess clams have subtle sweetnes...

Gustad said...

i am having clams on the half shell tonight before dinner.

obachan said...

Woooo...sounds good! With wine or something?

Karen Baking Soda said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Karen Baking Soda said...

Thank you for sharing this story Obachan, I love to read about traditions and the story behind. The clamsoup looks really delish. Love the picture!
May I add your blog to my blogroll?

obachan said...

Hi baking soda!
Of course. Please! Can I add your site to mine, too?
This blogroll thing is neat, isn't it? (But once in a while, when I try to browse my blog, it gets stuck at the blogroll part and cannot load the rest. I wonder if this happens to all blogroll users...)

Karen Baking Soda said...

Thanks and of course please do add my site to yours. And...I have a little question for you..I bought these cute little bottles here in Holland, to me it looks like a japanese dressing for salads. I'm planning to give one to my Sister in law as a present because last year she had a holiday in Japan, she loved yr country, so I thought it would be a nice gesture to give her one of these, but now she would like to know what it exactly is....Would you be so kind to go and have a look at this post? Thank you so much!

obachan said...

baking soda
I hope you liked the dressing.

evil jonny
I have no idea what the Korean version is like, but it sounds interesting. :)