Small ornamental dolls, called hina-ningyou, are displayed on a seven-tier platform that is covered in red carpet. The dolls represent members of the Imperial court of the Heian Period (794-1185 A.D.), which is when the festival started. The top tier has the dolls of the Emperor and Empress. Tier two holds the three court ladies. Tier three has five male musicians and their instruments. The fourth tier has two ministers, one a young man and the second an old man. Tier five holds either three court helpers or three samurai protectors. Tiers six and seven often hold various items like furniture, carriages, and other items of court life.
Such sets can often be very expensive, so not every household has a seven-teir platform. If you can afford only one level, it is the top, with the Emperor and Empress. The displays are set up in February and taken down March 4, any later than that and the result will be a late marriage for the daughter.
There are several foods associated with the holiday: shirozake, a sake made from fermented rice. Colored, bite-sized crackers flavored with sugar or soy sauce are called hina-arare and are easily available in grocery stores, often in brightly colored pink packaging especially designed for the holiday. And hishimochi, a diamond-shaped colored rice cake. Chirashizushi, which is sushi rice flavored with sugar, vinegar, and topped with raw fish and other ingredients) is often eaten. A salty soup called ushiojiru containing clams still in the shell is also served. Clam shells in food are the symbol of a united and peaceful couple, because a pair of clam shells fits perfectly, and no pair but the original pair of shells can do so.