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THE FEAST OF DOLLS AND THE FEAST OF FLAGS
On the third day of the third month there is great excitement in every Japanese household which numbers a girl among its domestic treasures: for the Feast of Dolls has come, the great festival for dolls. On this day the most beautiful dolls and dolls' houses are fetched from the godown, where the family furniture is kept, and are on exhibition for a short time, set out on shelves covered with scarlet cloth.
These dolls are the O-Hina, the honourable dolls. They are kept with the greatest care, and in some families there are dolls which are centuries old. As each doll is dressed exactly in the costume of its age, and is furnished with belongings which represent in miniature the furniture of that age, such a collection has great historic value, and is used to teach the children how their ancestors looked and lived.
There are common dolls for the little girls to play with every day, but these elaborate ones, the honourable dolls, are stored with the greatest care. Many of them are very costly. The doll is not only beautifully made and dressed, but its house is furnished with the most exact imitations of every article of furniture and of every utensil. In wealthy families this toy furniture is made of the rarest gold lacquer, or of solid silver, or of beautiful porcelain. Not a single article, either of state or of usefulness, is missing, and it is the delight of a Japanese girl at the Feast of Dolls to use the tiny utensils of her toy kitchen to prepare an elaborate feast of real food which is set before her honourable dolls.
The beginning of a collection of such dolls is made as soon as a girl is born. Every girl-child is presented with a pair of these dolls, and as time goes on she gathers all the articles which go with them. These dolls are always her own. When she marries she takes them to her new home.
When the O-Hina Matsuri, the Feast of Dolls, draws near, the Japanese shops begin to be full of the little images used at that time. The poorer are of painted earthenware; the finer are of wood, with clothes of the richest materials. These images, together with tiny bowls, and pots, and stoves, and trays, are used to set off and decorate the surroundings of the Feast of Dolls. They vary very greatly in price. The coolie household may have a set-out which cost a few pence. The O-Hina of a great noble's house will often be worth a fortune, having hundreds of beautifully carved and dressed images to represent the Emperor and Empress and every official of the Japanese Court, with every article used for State functions, and every piece of furniture needed to deck a royal palace. Other sets of O-Hina represent great personages in Japanese history, perhaps a great Daimio and his followers, each figure dressed with strict historical accuracy, and provided with every feature proper to its rank and period.
The great festival for boys comes at the Feast of Flags. This is held on the fifth day of the fifth month. Every one knows when the Feast of Flags is near, for before every house where there are boys a tall post of bamboo is set up. Swinging from the top of each post is the figure of a huge carp, made of brightly coloured paper. If a boy has been born in the house during the year the carp is made bigger still. The body of the fish is hollow, and when the wind blows into it, it wriggles its fins and tail just like a fish swimming strongly. The Japanese choose the carp because they say it has the power of ascending streams swiftly against the current and of leaping over waterfalls. It is thus supposed to typify a young man breasting the stream of life, and thrusting his way through difficulties to success.
As the boys' day draws near, the shops become full of toys for them. There are images bought for boys as well as for their sisters; but boys' images are those of soldiers, heroes, generals, famous old warriors, wrestlers, and so forth. The old Japanese were a war-like nation, and the toys provided for their sons at the Feast of Flags were helmets, flags, swords, bows and arrows, coats of mail, spears, and the like. The Feast of Flags itself is held on the day sacred to Hachima, the Japanese God of War, and the favourite game on that day is a mimic battle.
The boys divide themselves into two parties, called Heike and Genji. These names represent two great old rival clans of the feudal days. Every Heike carries a red flag on his back, every Genji a white one. Each combatant also wears a helmet, consisting of a kind of earthenware pot. The combat is joined, and the small warriors hack at each other with bamboo swords. A well-directed blow will dash to pieces the earthenware pot, and the wearer is then compelled to own defeat. That side wins which breaks most pots on its opponents' heads, or captures most flags.
This display of weapons, with blowing of horns and trumpets, serves another purpose also; for on the fifth day of the fifth month the Japanese believe that Oni, an evil-disposed god, comes down from the heavens to devour boys, or to bring great harm to them. But he fears sharp swords, so the long sword-shaped blades of the sweet flag are gathered from the edges of rivers and the sides of swampy rice-fields, and used as decorations. As a Japanese writer says: "Oni fears the sword-blade of the sweet flag, so that its leaves are everywhere. They are upon the festal table; they hang in festoons about the house, and all along the eaves. Boys wear them tied around their heads, with the white scraped fragrant roots projecting like two horns from their foreheads. So, and with the noise of bamboo horns, they frighten away the ogre god. For he fears horned men, and he dares not enter a house where so many swords hang from the eaves."