Hina Matsuri: The Doll Festival

The 15 dolls are arranged with the Emperor and Empress at the top, followed by the court ministers and ladies-in-waiting on the next level, and the musicians and footmen below.


On March third each year Japan celebrates Hina Matsuri, the Doll Festival, a time to pray for a peaceful and happy life for young girls. These porcelain dolls from the Yale Peabody Museum’s anthropology collections are arranged here in a traditional display as they would be set out for this annual festival.

Doll of the Empress


Although the exact origin of Hina Matsuri is not known, in the middle of the eighth century, during Japan’s Heian Period, dolls were displayed in early March as substitutes for human beings during the purging rituals known as Harai. It was also customary for girls from the upper classes to play with dolls and miniature household goods (Dogu). Later these two customs apparently merged.

The doll of the Empreror


Today’s style of display was developed during the early 17th century during the Edo Period, when Japanese society enjoyed 300 years of peace and prosperity after a time of civil war, and even ordinary people could obtain dolls and household miniatures.

The doll of a court minister


A standard Hina Matsuri display includes 15 dolls (Kimarimono), the Emperor and Empress (Dairibina), ladies-in-waiting (San-nin kanjo), five seated musicians (Gonin Bayashi), ministers (Zuishin) and three footmen (Shicho).

The dolls tend to survive over time, so each set reflects the fashion of its era, and often reveals much about the history of Japanese folklore. At the birth of a daughter, a family would begin to make the  miniature household goods, Dogu, models of goods that would be part of her wedding dowry.

The doll of a drummer


When the Tokugawa government collapsed at the end of the Edo Period, the new government abolished traditional festivals and established new national holidays. Yet the Doll Festival, extremely popular and widespread in Japan, never disappeared.

Evangeline Johnson Zalstem-Zalessky (lower right, in a later photograph) in 1924. The frame at the upper left holds memorabilia of her service with the American Red Cross.

Photographs courtesy of the family.


The Yale Peabody Museum received this collection of Hina Matsuri in 1955 from Evangeline Johnson Zalstem-Zalessky (1897–1990), daughter of Robert Wood Johnson, co-founder of the Johnson & Johnson. A collector of modern art and anthropological artifacts, she traveled and collected worldwide with each of her three husbands — the renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski, Russian nobleman and student of tropical agriculture Prince Alexis Zalstem-Zalessky, and Charles Merrill, an editor at The Arts in Ireland magazine. Well-known in museum circles, she ultimately donated many of her prizes to the Yale Peabody Museum, the Wadsworth Athenaeum, the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.