Hina-matsuri: Japanese Traditions

Hina-matsuri dollHina-matsuri (雛祭), also known as Doll’s day or Girls’ Day,  is celebrated on March 3. On this day, platforms (hinadan) covered with red material are used to display ornamental dolls. The dolls represent the Emperor, Empress, attendants and musicians, in the traditional court dress of the Heian period.


Doll’s Day is known as a girls’ celebration, but this wasn’t always the case. Hina-matsuri used to be for all children, however, a combination of girls’ love of playing with dolls and the religious custom of floating dolls down a river has shaped how the day is celebrated today.

Hina-matsuri originated in the Heian period (794 to 1185), a time in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their peak. The Kojiki, or “An Account of Ancient Matters“, is a collection of myths published during the Heian period about the origins of Japan, and the Kami, or spirits. The myths form part of the origin of many spiritual practices such as the purification ritual. The Kojiki contains a story where one of the mythical founders of Japan purifies himself in the river. This became the Shinto purification rite known as o-harae.

The Tale of GenjiO-harae was practiced by the imperial court. A Japanese novel from the Heian period called The Tale of Genji mentions the 3rd day of the 3rd month as an auspicious time to perform purification rituals by throwing dolls into the river or ocean. The Onin War (1467-1477) spelled an end to o-harae at the imperial palace, but it was still practiced by the people and was popular at Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto and at Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine in Osaka. People practiced hina-nagashi, a custom in which straw hina dolls were set afloat on a boat and sent down a river and out to sea, the idea being that they carried away bad spirits.

The earliest record of displaying the dolls in March comes from 1625, when Emperor Go-Mizunoo’s daughter played with dolls. She succeeded her father as Empress Meisho and Hina-matsuri became the official name for the holiday in 1687.

Doll-makers made elaborate dolls for the festival. As the dolls became more expensive, levels were added to the hinadan so that the expensive ones could be placed out of the reach of young children.

Families start to display Hina-matsuri dolls in February and take them down immediately after the festival. Superstition says that leaving the dolls on display past March 4 will result in a late marriage for the daughter.

The levels

The attention to detail that is visible in a Hina-matsuri display is impressive. Different regions of Japan place the dolls in different orders from left to right, but the type of dolls displayed on each level are always the same.

The top level always displays the Emperor and the Empress. There might be extra details on this level such as silk lanterns decorated with cherry blossoms. Hina-matsuri purists would place two vases of artificial peach branches between the two dolls. The traditional Kansai arrangement had the male on the right, while modern Kanto arrangements place him on the left.

The second level holds three court ladies, each holds sake equipment. The lady on the right is the long-handled sake-bearer Nagae no chōshi, the on the left is the backup sake-bearer Kuwae no chōshi, and the lady in the middle is the seated sake bearer Sanpō. Accessories between the ladies include stands with round table-tops for seasonal sweets.

The third level has a musical theme–it holds five male musicians holding instruments including a small drum, a large drum, a hand drum, a flute and a singer holding a fan. There are ancient hina-matsuri sets with up to ten musicians, with at least one with female.

Hishi mochiTwo ministers may be displayed on the fourth level. These may be the Emperor’s bodyguards, or administrators. They are sometimes carrying a bow and arrow. When they represent ministers, the Minister of the Right is depicted as a young person and the Minister of the Left is older. Between the two figures are covered bowl tables as well as diamond-shaped stands bearing hishi mochi, a Japanese sweet made specially for Hana-matsuri. Just below the ministers on the right is a mandarin tree, and on the left, a cherry blossom.

The fifth level displays three protectors of the Emperor and Empress. They are all having a different experience of being drunk–one is crying, one is angry, and one is laughing. The sixth and seventh levels are less interesting (psychologically). These levels display a variety of miniature furniture, tools and carriages. The furniture depicts items used in the palace including a chest of drawers, a chest for kimono storage, a sewing kit and utensils for a tea ceremony. The seventh layer displays items used away from the palace such as an ox-drawn carriage and a picnic hamper.

A modern twist

Last year an 81-year-old woman called Masako Wakamiya developed a game app called Hinadan App. The game challenges players to sort all of the hina dolls into their rightful place on a hinadan. You can watch a TED talk of Masako Wakamiya here.

Emperor and Empress dolls

Hina-matsuri at Shizuka Ryokan 2018

The Health Benefits of a Japanese Diet

Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, part cookbook, part philosophical odyssey, is considered one of the greatest cookbooks of all time.

Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, part cookbook, part philosophical odyssey, is considered one of the greatest cookbooks of all time.

The Traditional Japanese breakfast served at Shizuka Ryokan exemplifies Japanese cuisine. Grilled salmon, hijiki seaweed, miso, pickled daikon radish, umeboshi plum and furikake seasoning are regular features around here. Not only are these foods delicious, they are beneficial to health.

The Japanese Diet


Japan consists of 6,852 islands, so it is no surprise that a large part of the Japanese diet is fish. The nutrients and minerals found in pelagic fish—such as tuna, salmon and sardines—include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, phosphorus and selenium. The oily fish found in the Japanese meals served at Shizuka Ryokan are good for the brain and the heart. The Japanese also eat a lot of squid and octopus, foods high in an amino acid called taurine, that can lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Most chronic diseases—for example diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and Alzheimer’s—are marked by high levels of inflammation. Studies show the Omega-3 fatty acids present in oily fish reduce inflammation and can even help in cases of mild depression. Fish are rich in selenium, which plays a vital role in immunity, and Vitamin B12, which is great for the brain.

please note: At Shizuka Ryokan we serve more than oily fish—we cater for a wide range of dietary requirements, including veganism, vegetarianism, and coeliac disease. Our kitchen staff are trained in the preparation of delicious Japanese food within the parameters of these diets.

Fermented Foods
Many Japanese foods are fermented—think pickles, sake, miso and soy sauce. During fermentation foods go through a process of lacto-fermentation in which bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food. Fermentation produces beneficial enzymes, B Vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics. The digestive benefits of fermented foods are well known. Miso, the paste made from fermented soybeans and grains, contains millions of beneficial bacteria, minerals, vitamins B,E and K and folic acid. One tablespoon of natto contains billions of Bacillus subtilis, a healthful soil bacteria that can survive the high-acid environment of the stomach in order to colonise the intestine. Scientists are interested in nattokinase, an enzyme formed during natto production, which has been shown to have blood-thinning actions. Natto also has high levels of Vitamin K2 which helps prevent osteoporosis.

In Japan, the rate of breast cancer is low. Japanese women consume a high amount of fermented soy foods including miso paste, tempeh and natto. Fermented soy foods are high in isoflavones—compounds that act as phyto-estrogens (plant substances that have a weak oestrogen-like effect in the body). Isoflavones are also known to increase bone density, and thus reduce the risk of osteoporosis. For this reason a Japanese diet is useful during menopause.


Vegetables From The Sea book cover

A few years ago everybody started talking about the fifth flavour. As well as salty, sweet, bitter and sour, there was this new one called Umami. People in Japan have been enjoying umami for centuries. Kombu, a type of seaweed, is employed in Japanese cooking to achieve the umami flavour.

The Japanese eat more seaweed than any other culture. Seaweed is rich in minerals that may be low in quantity in our everyday diet, such as iodine, zinc, magnesium, calcium and potassium. These are important trace minerals.

Green tea

The Japanese drink a lot of green tea. Green tea—especially a type called matcha—is high in polyphenols. Polyphenols are thought to have anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory effects. Green tea is high in a type of polyphenol called catechins. Catechins can reduce the formation of free radicals in the body, preventing cell damage. Japanese vegetables and herbs such as purple sweet potatoes, pumpkins and shiso also contain large amounts of beneficial antioxidants.

Shizuka Ryokan

Of course, the idea behind a healthy diet is to eat more protective foods and fewer damaging ones. And if you want to live to 100 there are other factors to consider such as genetics, upbringing, how much exercise you get, how many friends you have, the climate where you live, the standard of healthcare you receive, whether you take onsen and naps and so on, but booking a holiday at Shizuka Ryokan and eating Japanese food while you are here is a good place to start!



Around the world, five blue zones—places where people tend to live longer, healthier lives—have been identified: the Italian island of Sardinia; Loma Linda, California; the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; the Greek island of Ikaria, and Okinawa, Japan.

Okinawa, a group of 161 islands in southern Japan, is said to include the largest proportion of people over 100 years of age anywhere in the world (about 33 per 100,000). In Okinawa rates of heart disease and stroke rate are very low, and breast and prostate cancer is extremely rare.

Researchers studied the people of Okinawa diet for 25 years to figure out if good genetics or diet accounted for their health. Experiments showed that when people from Okinawa grew up in another country or abandoned the traditional diet they developed the same chronic disease risks as everyone else1. So, it is worth asking: what is the traditional Okinawan diet? Each day Okinawan elders eat seven serves of fruit and vegetables, seven serves of grain and two serves of soy. They also eat fish several times a week and their consumption of dairy and meat is minimal. Their mantra “hara hachi bu” means eat until you are 8/10ths full.

1 Since the Okinawa study, the life expectancy of men in Okinawa has plummeted from No. 1 in the world to No. 26. Older Okinawans who are eating the traditional diet still rank No. 1, but the younger generation are turning to Big Macs.

Learn more

Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art

How Umami Works

Okinawa Diet

Wild Fermentation

Vegetables From The Sea

Pink coloured kitkat with decorative box. A new addition to Japanese tradition.

Valentine’s Day and White Day: Japanese Traditions

Did you forget to buy your lovely lady some flowers last Valentine’s Day? Shizuka Ryokan forgives you; you were probably just following Japanese tradition.

In Japan men don’t have to worry about shopping for jewelry or flowers in February because Valentine’s Day is celebrated differently there; for the Japanese, Valentine’s is a day when women shower men with chocolate.

There are two types of chocolates. Giri-choco (義理チョコ, ‘courtesy chocolate’) is intended for friends, colleagues, bosses, and close male friends. ‘Giri’ translates as obligation and has no romantic connotation. On the other hand, honmei-choco (本命チョコ, ‘chocolate of love’) is given to a boyfriend, lover, or husband. Japanese women often hand make the honmei-choco in the belief that shop-bought chocolate doesn’t cut it when it comes to true love.

White Day (ホワイトデー) is celebrated one month later on March 14. On White Day the men who received chocolates on February 14 are expected to return the favour threefold  (sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し, ‘triple the return’) by giving gifts. Traditional White Day gifts include cookies, jewelry, white chocolate, white lingerie, and… marshmallows!

How did this White Day tradition happen? Well, in 1977, a candy company in Fukuoka declared March 14 Marshmallow Day (マシュマロデー Mashumaro Dē). This evolved into White Day in 1978 when the National Confectionary Industry Association (全国飴菓子工業協同組合) came up with a genius marketing ploy: an ‘answer day’ to Valentine’s. The slogan was: ‘Answer her love on White Day.’

White Day spread to South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau and China. (Interestingly in South Korea Chupa Chup lollypops are the most popular White Day candy). These days, men give both white and dark chocolate, as well as cookies, jewelry, white lingerie, flowers and marshmallows.

Last week Nestlé Japan Ltd. launched the ‘Sublime Ruby Kitkat, a naturally pink chocolate, created by pâtissier Yasumasa Takagi. The Sublime Ruby Kitkat arose after Swiss cacao processor Barry Callebaut invented ‘ruby’ chocolate late last year. Ruby chocolate is the first new natural colour (following dark, milk, and white) for chocolate since white chocolate was invented in the 1930s. The new ruby chocolate is being marketed as the ideal romantic gift in the run up to Valentine’s Day.

[You might be asking: What about gay relationships? It seems that some couples have a tradition where one person gives chocolates on Valentine’s Day and the other returns the favour on White Day. And if you are single don’t fret: In South Korea there is a day for that. Black Day on April 14 is a day where people who didn’t receive any marshmallows can eat a steaming bowl of jjajyangmyeon, or ‘black noodles’]

Shizuka Ryokan serves a traditional banquet dinner every Saturday, Monday and Thursday. This year Valentine’s Day falls on a Wednesday so we are opening the kitchen on February 14 to celebrate. Visit here to book your stay.

SAORI weaving on a loom.

SAORI at Shizuka

Shizuka Ryokan will be rife with creativity and sustainability this October during a three day SAORI Japanese weaving workshop.

The philosophy of SAORI is an interesting one. In Japanese the word SAORI comes from ‘sai’ meaning individuality, and ‘ori’ meaning weaving. SAORI is markedly different from other forms of hand weaving because the weaver is encouraged to make mistakes. In traditional hand weaving regularity is the law, and an irregular thread is considered a mistake. In SAORI things are very different.

SAORI weavers follow four slogans:
1) Consider the differences between a machine and a human being
2) Be bold and adventurous
3) Let’s look out through eyes that shine
4) Inspire one another, and everyone in the group

Japan is renowned for the wabi-sabi philosophy, which can be loosely defined as a world view centered on the acceptance of imperfection. The wabi sabi aesthetic is in evidence at Shizuka Ryokan. For example, upon arrival guests receive green tea in an irregularly shaped Japanese cup. The style of the Japanese pottery is called hagi ware; the cup is rustic and simple looking, with unrefined textures and is beautiful because it is flawed. The philosophy of SAORI weaving is the same. SAORI weavers celebrate accidents, unexpected colours and textures.

Misao Jo invented SAORI in the late sixties. She was weaving an obi, a Japanese belt, and found that one of the threads was missing. Looking at the belt she realised that the mistake was pleasing to behold. She showed it to a person running a weaving factory who dismissed it as flawed and worthless but this did not deter Misao who had an inherent sense of the value of the handmade object. She deliberately made a belt with many flaws and showed it to the owner on an obi shop in Osaka who thought it was wonderful.

Misao thought that the aesthetic quality of the flawed obi must be the result of something hidden within herself. She realised that the obi’s beauty was a result of escaping conventional thinking in order to express herself. The philosophy of SAORI was born.

The SAORI workshop at Shizuka will be taught by Prue Simmons, founder of the Dyeing To Weave SAORI Studio. Prue is one of only three SAORI teachers in Australia. She learned traditional Japanese weaving and natural dye techniques from Toyomi Harada in the mountains of Honshu, Japan. Prue is interested in sustainability, natural dyes, upcycling and environmentally friendly textiles. Prue and her partner run White Stone Farm in Central Victoria. On the farm Prue raises llamas and uses their fleece to weave beautiful pieces.

The workshop runs October 2018. Dates to be announced.


Close up detail of SAORI weaving on loom.

SAORI: Japanese Traditions

“When you get to explore your own creativity you tap into your inner spirit, and what makes you unique.”- Prue Simmons

There is something downright mythological about Prue Simmons—one senses that if you spent enough time in her company you would rise like a phoenix from the ashes of your boring office job.

Prue is the founder of Dyeing to Weave, a SAORI weaving and natural dye studio based out of Clunes in the Central Highland of Victoria. Prue was at Shizuka Ryokan last week to teach a three day SAORI weaving workshop.

The Japanese word SAORI comes from ‘sai’ meaning individuality, and ‘ori’ meaning weaving. SAORI is different from other forms of weaving because in traditional hand weaving regularity is the law, and an irregular thread is considered a mistake. In SAORI things are very different. SAORI weavers celebrate accidents, unexpected colours and textures.

Natural dye in buckets; one blue, one orange.

Prue explains that colorful fabrics are dyed using bengala dye; a mud dye handmade in Japan from “iron oxides from earth” mined from soil and originally used to protect the exterior of houses.

Entering the building I notice a dozen freshly dyed fabric objects slung over the bridge drying in the sun. Shizuka’s dining room is an explosion of colour. In the corner is a table covered in spools of thread. There are half a dozen or more weaving looms with half woven projects coming out of them, and on another table a basket of llama wool and some SAORI clothing. At a long dining table sits Prue and her colour army of weavers enjoying a Japanese feast.

In 2007 Prue was volunteering in remote parts of Japan and “going where ever the whim took me”. She was wwoofing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) on an island and the season was coming to an end but she didn’t want to leave Japan. Somebody mentioned that they had a friend who lived in the mountains in Naka who needed help building a pizza oven. Prue arrived to find an old wooden school house in an Arts & Craft Village devoted to traditional Japanese handicrafts. To thank her for help building the pizza oven Toyomi Harada taught Prue SAORI and indigo dye techniques.

Prue explains the origins of SAORI weaving. Misao Jo invented SAORI in the late sixties. “Misao grew up as a very traditional Japanese woman, learning all of the traditonal crafts, such as the tea ceremony and ikebana. It was all very precise, very perfect.” But one time Misao was weaving an obi, a Japanese belt, and found that one of the threads was missing. Looking at the belt she realised that the mistake was pleasing to behold. She showed it to a person running a weaving factory who dismissed it as flawed and worthless but this did not deter Misao who had an inherent sense of the value of the handmade object. Prue says, “She did not see it as a mistake, but as human uniqueness.” Misao thought that what made the flawed obi interesting must be the result of something hidden within herself. She suspected that the obi’s beauty was a result of escaping conventional thinking in order to express herself.

“Everything that you do on the loom is meant to happen.”

Close up detail of SAORI weaving on loom.

SAORI weavers follow four slogans:
1) Consider the differences between a machine and a human being
2) Be bold and adventurous
3) Let’s look out through eyes that shine
4) Inspire one another, and everyone in the group

From Naka Prue returned to Melbourne and took up SAORI as a hobby “to destress from a stressful job.” Prue is a zoologist by trade but she kept returning to Japan to study SAORI under her mentor Toyomi Harada every year. Eventually she decided to leave the stressful job (running a world conservation program), and in what Prue describes as “a push in the right direction” she was made redundant. Together with her partner Prue moved to the country and started White Stone Farm, where they raise llamas for fleece. With values grounded in permaculture, community and sustainability her medium of choice for weaving is llama, alpaca and sheep fibres.

By this stage Prue wanted to teach SAORI. She asked Toyomi’s permission and was told that she would have to live with them, and undergo extensive training. Prue said she was told “You have to fit the SAORI family” and that even at the end of the training she might not be accredited to teach. Prue went to Japan and immersed herself in study. The gamble paid off, she is now one of only three accredited SAORI teachers in Australia. Prue’s practice brings together the philosophy of SAORI, natural dyes, upcycling and repurposing and aims to “offer people an opportunity to discover their individual creativity and relaxation through workshops and studio sessions in the time-honoured activities of weaving and dye.”

The SAORI three day workshop is “great for both beginners and seasoned SAORI weavers” who Prue says “often find that they have their loom at home but life gets in the way. That’s the power of SAORI, it allows people to step out of their daily lives.” Looking around at the people weaving everyone seems to have entered into what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls an “optimal experience”, a flowing state of consciousness during which people experience deep creativity and focus.

Prue will be returning to Shizuka in October 2018 for another fantastic SAORI weaving intensive. Visit here for more details.

Cartoon depiction of the many fruit and vegetables available at the farmers' market.

Farmers’ Markets near Shizuka Ryokan

You might be in for a treat—your visit to Shizuka Ryokan might coincide with a local farmers’ market. Farmers’ markets enable personal connections between growers and consumers. By cutting out the middlemen, local growers receive more food dollars and shoppers receive fresh, in season produce which supports the local community. To learn more visit the Australian Farmers’ Markets Association.

Here is a plan: start the day at Shizuka with a traditional Japanese breakfast then go to a farmers’ market, buy some delicious local cheese, wine and bread and have yourself a picnic. The following is a list of farmers’ markets near Shizuka:


Daylesford Farmers Market

Daylesford Primary School, Vincent Street

9am – 1pm

Woodend Farmers Market

High Street Woodend

9am – 1pm


Castlemaine Farmers Market

Mostyn St, Castlemaine

9am – 1pm


Ballan Farmers Market

96 Inglis St, Ballan

9am – 1pm

Kyneton Farmers Market

St Pauls Park, Piper St, Kyneton

8am – 1pm


Clunes Farmers Market

Collins Place & Fraser St

9am – 2pm


Trentham Farmers Market

Trentham Town Square, Trentham

9am – 1pm