Answering questions about the day March 3 in Japan: What does “momono-sekku (桃の節句)” mean? Where mandarin orange flowers, peach branches and clams on the day came from?
With a warm sunlight, March is the month that we can see the arrival of spring, which all people have waited for.
Then, did you enjoyed celebrating Momono-sekku (桃の節句) on the third of March?
Usually called as Hina-matsuri (ひな祭り), it is a traditional celebration for girls.
However, not many people know in detail what the celebration is about, and why some customs related to the day have been observed generation to generation.
In addition, peach flowers aren’t at their best in this season, even though the day is named as Momono-sekku.
Once you know what Momono-sekku is about and its historical meanings, I’m sure you see what Japanese people has value since the start of Japanese culture.
You’ll think March as the best month in Japan, having deep knowledge about it.
Let’s think of it by answering some frequently-asked questions about it!
1.What does Momono-sekku (桃の節句) mean?
It is said Momono-sekku stemmed from an old Chinese calendar, which set the third of March as the day on which spring started.
Tradition says that bad vibes that cause illness and other misfortune affect people’s lives more easily at the turn of the season.
Because of this, people in an ancient period saw peach flowers which bloomed at their best around the day on an old Chinese calender as a symbol of life, and tried to be shared its power of life.
It’s another important reason of the flower to be thought as a symbol of the day that Koji-ki (古事記), the oldest history book in Japan, states that peach is a sacred fruit, having a power to expel evil spirits.
According to a legend, peach endows people with immortality, which stems from the character 百 (hyaku), meaning 100 in both Chinese and Japanese, is also pronounced as momo, which is the same pronunciation of 桃 (momo), peach.
Thus, people in the past ate peaches in order to live till 100 years old.
In the past, the third of March was the day to pray for health.
However, time passed and people started throwing paper dolls with evil spirits and bad luck into rivers, which later merged with doll play that girls did.
It was Edo bakufu that set the day as a celebration for the growth of girls.
This is the present form of Momono-sekku, and that’s why we set up dolls called “Hina-ningyo (ひな人形)” on March 3.
２.Why mandarin orange flowers are used to decorate a tiered doll stand?
Many people have a misunderstanding that peach flowers are used to decorate the bottom of a tiered doll stand, a stand for Hina-ningyo, because of the name “Momono-sekku”.
Actually it is mandarin orange flowers, tachibana (橘) in Japanese, on the bottom of a tiered doll stand.
It originates in an old proverb related to an imperial court in Kyoto in the past, “Ukon no Tachibana, Sakon no Sakura (右近の橘 左近の桜),”
It means a mandarin tree on the right of the minister of the right, and a cherry blossom tree on the left of the minister of the left, and Hina-ningyo traditionally depicts an imperial court in the past.
Dairi (内裏), two dolls at the top of the tiers, represent the Emperor and the Empress, and the stand has the two flowers on the correct sides in each to recreate the scenery of the court.
It is also said that mandarin orange flower has a sweet scent and a strong power to survive in heavy snow, which made people believe that the flower brought people good fortune.
３. Why do Japanese people eat clams on Momono-sekku?
Now, you already know that Momono-sekku is the day to wish a healthy growth and a good match of girls.
Wishing a good match of girls deeply relates to the custom to have clams on the day.
Surprisingly, the top of the shell of a clam doesn’t match another clam’s bottom shell.
People since ancient times have eaten clams with a prayer to wish for their daughters having a good match like a clam shell, and living happily forever.
In ancient times, having a good match directly connected to the happiness of girls, so it could be very natural that parents wished for their daughters’ good matches.
How was it?
Some may think that setting Hina dolls with a big tiered doll stand, cooking special meals for the day and having a celebration party are time-consuming tasks.
However, it surely is a wonderful memory that a girl had the celebration with her family, and she is more likely to have a happy family in the future.
Don’t you think so?
You don’t need to have a big party, but just remember, the day has a historical importance in Japanese culture, in that a season goes and a new comes, and people in Japan celebrate girls’ healthy growth and happiness.
I hope you have fun!