By Avi Landau
Tomorrow, March 3rd, right in the very heart of the PLUM BLOSSOM season, we celebrate the Hina Matsuri (the Girls’ Day Hina Doll Festival), otherwise known as MOMO NO SEKKU (桃の節句), the PEACH FESTIVAL. And though you might recognize the purple petalled little peach tree replicas in the full Hina Doll sets, you might wonder where the REAL peach blossoms can be seen today. The answer is that, outdoors, you can’t! (Practitioners of Ikebana flower arrangement, however, can get special blooming peach branches at flower shops). For the real thing, you will have to wait a few more weeks.
Why then is the Peach Festival on March 3rd? Well, that’s what happens when you CHANGE THE CALENDAR, as the Japanese did back in 1873, after having used the Chinese lunar calender for about 1200 years. The festival should be celebrated on the 3rd day of the 3rd month, which with the old calendar (kyureki) was about one month later than March 3rd (this year it will be March 29th), when the peach Blossoms ACTUALLY DO bloom. And while some people in certain regions do continue to celebrate the Doll Festival according to the KYUREKI, now most Japanese do so on the 3rd day of the NEW 3rd month, which is March.
In ancient China, it was originally on the first Day of the Snake of the third month (each day of the month is designated a different animal of the Chinese zodiac), that a special seasonal marker (sekku, in Japanese) was observed. This was a day of spiritual cleansing which was usually carried out by ablutions in rivers.
In China, the peach is considered a powerful vessel of YANG (yo in Japanese), as opposed to YIN (in), because its tree bears numerous, brightly colored fruits. These were believe to be effective in fighting THE DARK SIDE (the YIN), and the wood of the peach tree was an essential ingredient for exorcisms, purification and battling demons. That is why the peach, which also bloomed in the 3rd lunar month, became so strongly connected with this day of purification (in Heian Japan small human figurines HITOGATA were rubbed against the body and cast off into rivers or the sea).
Many mistakenly assume the peaches in the Hina Doll sets and the name of the festival itself (momo no sekku) to be symbols of FEMININTY for Girls’ Day. Their presence , however, can be traced back to this notion of the peach tree and its fruit tree’s being useful use in driving away evil.
The concept of the peach’s evil fighting powershas left other traces in Japanese culture. The great DEMON DEFEATING HERO- MOMO TARO (little peach boy), is one of the best known figures in Japanese folklore (until reading this, Westerners probably felt it was strange that a male heroic figure was called peach boy!). Now you know why!
Have a Happy Hina Matsuri!