Kiyoko awoke with a start. It’s Hinamatsuri (Girl’s Day)! she thought. She felt like jumping up but decided that it would be more polite to wait. Her whole family slept in the same room, so she had to be very quiet.
Rolling over on her futon (a thick mat placed on the floor), the young Japanese girl gazed dreamily at the red cloth-covered shelves, with their special contents, set up in the corner. Her father had put the shelves up the day before especially for Hinamatsuri.
Special guests were coming that day—aunts, uncles, and friends. She would get to be their hostess and would show them the beautiful dolls. She and her mother had even planned special refreshments together.
At last Kiyoko’s brothers, grandmother, and parents began to wake up. Kiyoko jumped up and carefully rolled up her futon and put it away. Then she put on her very best kimono (traditional Japanese long dress), which she had set out the night before.
She glanced again at the red shelves. This year, for the first time, Kiyoko had been allowed to unwrap the very special dolls and display them on the shelves. The dolls were stored all year and were only taken out for this holiday. Some of the dolls had been her mother’s, some were her grandmother’s, and some were even older.
No one ever played with these dolls, and since Kiyoko saw them only once a year, she’d nearly forgotten what they looked like. It had been exciting to unwrap each one.
The first one she had unwrapped was the empress doll. She was the loveliest of them all. She was also the oldest. The empress had smooth black hair, a porcelain face and hands, and a bright kimono with fancy trim. The empress always went on the top shelf. Kiyoko had put the emperor up there, too—these two dolls ruled over all the others.
Next she had unwrapped servant dolls, guard dolls, musician dolls, and courtier dolls. She also unwrapped miniature furniture and musical instruments. These went on the bottom shelves.
Now, as she looked lovingly at the beautiful dolls, she longed to touch the smooth black hair of the empress. Carefully she reached up to the top shelf and patted it.
As she pulled her arms back and lowered her heels to the floor, one sleeve of her kimono caught on the empress doll. It tumbled to the floor. Kiyoko felt very sick. She bent over to pick up the empress, hoping that since the doll had landed on the tatami (straw mats that cover the floors) it would not be broken. Carefully she turned the empress over in her hands. It was still all in one piece, but there was a crack on the side of its face.
Kiyoko quickly glanced over her shoulder to see if anyone else had seen it happen. Most of the family were in the village, visiting other girls’ displays. Her mother was in the kitchen, beginning preparations for that night’s holiday food.
Tears welled up in Kiyoko’s eyes. She felt ashamed. She decided to put one of the servant doll’s hats on the empress’s head and hope that no one would notice.
That evening guests began to arrive. Kiyoko served them diamond-shaped rice cakes, and candies shaped like fruits. She was no longer excited, though. Every time someone asked to see her display, she felt awful. However, no one seemed to remember that the empress had not worn that hat before.
Soon all the guests sat on floor cushions around the table, and Kiyoko helped her mother serve the food. They had miso soup (made with soybeans), and hisimochi (a special type of rice). Kiyoko particularly liked hisimochi, which was served only on Hinamatsuri, but that night she didn’t feel like eating anything. When her mother asked her if she was feeling well, Kiyoko couldn’t look at her mother when she mumbled that she was fine.
She felt relieved when the guests began to leave. They bowed and thanked her and her family for the special evening.
While the final guests were still changing from house slippers to their shoes, Kiyoko slipped back into the main room. She thought that if she put the dolls away right then, no one would notice the damaged doll. To further avoid mishaps—though she dearly wanted to start with the empress—she carefully started to wrap the miniature furniture first.
When her family came back into the room, her mother looked surprised to see Kiyoko was packing the dolls so soon, but said nothing. Then her father called the family together for prayer. As soon as they were all kneeling in a circle, he asked Kiyoko if she would say the prayer, since it was her special day.
Kiyoko folded her arms and bowed her head. But the words just wouldn’t come. All she could think of was the empress doll and the crack she was trying to hide. Tears came again to her eyes, and she looked up at her family. All of them had their heads bowed and were waiting for her to pray.
She knew what she should do. Her family had taught her to be honest. She stood up and went to the red shelves to get the empress doll. By then the rest of her family were looking at her. It was almost more than she could bear. She nearly decided to put the doll back and tell a lie to hide her actions.
But she didn’t. She lifted the hat off the empress’s head, then blurted out the whole story. With tears streaming down her face, she said that she was sorry. She also offered to use the money she had saved to have a craftsman repair the doll.
Kiyoko’s parents and grandmother went to her side, and each gave her a hug. They assured her that telling the truth was always the honorable thing to do.
As her family again knelt on the tatami, Kiyoko felt ready to pray. And this time the words did come.