Across Japan on March 3rd, little girls awake with excitement on the morning of their favorite day of the year: the Hina Matsuri, or Girls' Festival. This is their special day, with families displaying their treasured heirloom Hina Dolls, and of course, there will be special food for the celebration.
Hina Matsuri Food
Sushi is at the top of most girls' wishlist, and this means just one kind: chirashizushi (pictured above). Literally meaning 'sprinkled' or 'scattered' sushi, it generally consists of vinegared rice topped with shiitake mushrooms marinated in soy sauce, sliced omelette, beni shoga red pickled ginger, and other ingredients designed to be especially pleasing to a small girl's aesthetic sensibilities. Yes, you guessed it, pink is very much to the fore. Of all the sushi in Japan, chirashizushi is easy to find, in department stores, shokudo canteens, noodle shops, high-end ryotei classical restaurants and even convenience stores.
The other common dish served on Girls' Festival Day, is a clear soup, known as ushiojiru, of hamaguri: venus clams. This is an ancient tradition, and like many Japanese dishes is rife with symbolism.
A Venus clam, when closed, is rather difficult to open. The 'closed and secure' imagery reflects the traditionally-desired feminine virtues of chastity, and purity. Once opened, the two identically-shaped half shells, attached at a single point, represent the balance and harmony required for a long-lasting and successful romantic relationship.
Wagashi sweets are especially popular especially in pastel hues
So goes the traditional thought. 21st Century young Japanese ladies however tend to equate the Hina Matsuri girls'festival with a more contemporary Foodie pleasure, and minor 'vice': sweets, and in particular wagashi sweets. In the days leading up to the festival, the 'Depachika' basement food floors of the major deprtment stores (a must-visit for any inbound Foodie) are thronged with customers stocking up on ichigo daifuku strawberry confections, matcha sweets, ohagi, cakes filled with anko sweet bean paste. Read more here for a detailed account of wagashi sweets. It's a great time to visit traditional wagashi specialists, especially in Kyoto, as seasonal special wagashi appear.