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Girls Day to be commemorated March 3 at U. of I.'s Japan House

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Japan House

Hina dolls are presented in a carefully arranged display, with dolls representing the Emperor and Empress, court attendants, musicians, ministers and samurai.

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2/27/2013 | Dusty Rhodes, Arts and Humanities Editor | 217-333-0568; rhodes8@illinois.edu

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Japan House will observe Hinamatsuri, or Girls Day, on Sunday (March 3) with tea ceremonies, the traditional display of hina dolls, and origami souvenirs. This event, like the Setsubun (lunar new year) celebration two weeks ago, has been coordinated by Japan House interns, who will attend Girls Day dressed in traditional kimonos.

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Court attendant hina doll | Photo courtesy Japan House

“I’m from a Japanese background, and I really like spreading Japanese culture to the community and particularly to the students,” said Natsumi Kato, a freshman at the University of Illinois majoring in psychology. “It’s really fun saying ‘Hey, this culture is really cool, come check it out.’ ”

Girls Day and the custom of displaying hina dolls date to Japan’s Heian period, between the years 794 and 1185, when dolls were floated out to sea, taking all girls’ bad luck with them. Today, the sentiment is similar, emphasizing wishes of health, happiness and growth to all girls, but the dolls are presented in a carefully arranged display of six or seven stair-step platforms draped in red cloth. At the top are Emperor and Empress dolls seated in front of gold folding screens and flanked by miniature trees. Dolls representing court attendants, musicians, ministers and samurai occupy the lower levels.

Hina dolls are usually given to the first daughter in a family, during her first year of life. A typical set includes about 15 dolls along with specific furniture and accessories. Japan House’s set of hina dolls was a gift from the Hakubi Kimono School in Tokyo upon the occasion of the opening of Japan House in its current location, 2000 S. Lincoln Ave., Urbana. People who attend the Girls Day tea ceremonies will receive origami dolls representing the Emperor and Empress, created by Kato and the other Japan House interns.

This semester marks the inauguration of the internship program at Japan House, according to Cynthia Voelkl, assistant director. The program was established to increase student involvement at Japan House, and it has been a success, Voelkl said.

“The first program these guys set up and ran was Setsubun, and our student numbers went through the roof. It was wonderful,” she said. “This was exactly what we had been hoping would happen.”

For Girls Day, tea ceremonies begin at 1 and 2 p.m. and will include pink mochi cakes. Reservations are required, and may be made by calling 217-244-9934 or emailing japanhouse@illinois.edu. The usual $8 fee will be waived for girls 12 or younger, and reduced to $5 for women associated with the U. of I. as faculty, staff or students.

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