On the third day of this third month, Japan celebrated Hina Matsuri. A festival for girls, its major activities include bringing out dolls from the closet, dusting them off, and displaying them in neat rows on seven red felt steps for all to see. But these dolls are not just any dolls, and definitely not the type to be played with, since they are miniature depictions of Japan's royal family and their attendants.
According to Wikipedia, Hina Matsuri began during the Heian Period of 794 to 1185, but doll displaying wasn't popularized until the Edo Period of 1603-1868. Originally, dolls were viewed as possessing evil spirits and, when set afloat on a boat in the river, would carry said bad luck away. Today, Hina Matsuri is a way to wish girls good fortune, health and happiness, and to encourage their positive growth into women.
In our mixed-up house, we had dolls on display year-round. My mom's kind of a "sloppy" Japanese (see: naming me Yayoi when I was born in May) so she bent a lot of rules. Since her dolls weren't miniatures of the Emperor and Empress, I guess it was okay to have them collecting greasy dust on top of their heads and their cases, if they had one. Like every Japanese woman in America, my mother had what I call the sakura doll; a lady in a red kimono wearing a black pie-shaped hat tied under her chin, with a big branch of cherry blossoms (sakura) slung across her shoulder. Since I was the biggest neat freak in the house, it was my job to clean the case the lady lived inside with Windex. I also sprayed Pledge on all the kokeshi dolls (the armless, legless ones with bobbing round heads) that were stored inside my mother's china cabinet.
Even though I cared for my mom's dolls, I never entertained the idea of playing with them. That was reserved for the dozens of dolls my sister and I collected as Xmas and birthday gifts. I think we got at least two apiece annually.
We had our baby dolls that were all Caucasian since it was the only flavor dolls came in while my old a** was growing up. We also had a few toddlers, and even a high-heel wearing, grown lady with breasts.
Heavily influenced by our environment, my sister and I named our earlier dolls Mary Ann (she had a rubber ponytail), Mary and Sue (twin rubber toddlers), Linda (a baby doll that really wet her pants), and Lu Ann (pierced ears, pearl earrings and high-heeled feet). But our later dolls got more exotic names like Uneeda and Golly-a. For some reason, my sister and I were obsessed with our dolls' hair and ended up combing most of the synthetic stuff out so that they all became bald. Thank the stars, Mary Ann had a rubber ponytail. Even though my mother yelled at us for doing it, we just couldn't stop. I wonder now if our behavior was due to our inability to comb our own thick, wavy locks that my mom would, with her rough hands, deal with.
In all of our growing up years, my sister and I never once owned an "ethnic" doll, although I do recall seeing a few rare black ones around that time. Certainly, there were Japanese dolls that could be bought at gift shops or sent by relatives in Japan. But they were always so stiffly dressed up and expensive, that all we could do was gaze at them.
Nowadays, there are even mixed-race dolls which would've been a real treat for us. As I explained today to a grad student interviewing me about multiracial issues (thanks, Stacie!), not seeing your own face's likeness onscreen, in print publications, or even on dolls made me feel as if no one like me existed. But this lack of validation also gave me one wild creative streak and led me to draw people who looked just like me. Unfortunately, after graduating from art school, I realized that skill was a handicap because my freelance clients wanted me to draw only mono-racial people, particularly Caucasians. That's just the way it was in the 80's.
Hey, you're a doll for reading this. And, if you're on Facebook, please send me a friend request. We're getting ready to pimp our Hip Hapa Homeez group with more bling. With over 300 members, and so much action HAPA'ning lately with Watermelon Sushi, we'd love to invite everyone to get involved. Yes, we're still casting, and you can read submission details at the Hip Hapa Homeez group page. And, yes, we still have Hapa*Teez t-shirts available. This movie is a movement about us, ya'll, so please join us.
That's me and sis, b.r., above with Mary Ann and one of the Twins.
Your Hip Hapa,