Another Golden Week has come to an end, as yesterday was “Kodomo no Hi” or Children’s Day—the last holiday in the Golden Week party. Children’s Day is celebrated on May 5th, and was designated as a national holiday in 1948.
It was originally known as “Tango no Sekku” or Boy’s Day, and as the name suggests, was a festival for boys. Japan also set aside a festival for girls known as “Hina-Matsuri” or Doll Festival, but we will talk about that holiday another time. In any event, when Children’s Day became a national holiday, everyone agreed that all children would be celebrated. So everyone gets to have fun!
Within their homes, Japanese families display “Kabuto” or samurai helmets and/or “gogatsu-ningyo” which are samurai dolls.
The samurai armor and dolls represent traditional Japanese folktale characters, such as Kintaro and Momotaro—they symbolize courage and strength.
Children also eat “Kashiwa-mochi” or rice cakes filled with red bean paste and wrapped in oak leaves, which symbolize prosperity and good fortune.
The main decoration on this holiday is the wonderfully colorful “Koinobori”. Koinobori (鯉幟), means “carp streamer” in Japanese. They are colorful wind socks that are in the shape of carps, and are traditionally flown on Children’s Day in Japan.
The carp was chosen as the symbol for Children’s Day because it is considered the most spirited fish—full of energy and power, swimming up streams. It stands for the courage and the ability to attain high goals—the courage to overcome all obstacle with strength and determination.
There is a Chinese legend that states that a carp once swam upstream to become a dragon. Now that’s a cool symbol.
Most Japanese families traditionally raised Koinobori to represent their sons, but I’m sure many get raised for girls nowadays too.
The origins of Koinobori is a bit hazy, but we know that in ancient times Japanese families would place tall poles in front of their homes to celebrate the birth of a child. It was believed that the gods would climb down the pole and protect the child. To make sure the gods saw their poles, people would decorate them with colored-cloths.
But Koinobori aren’t just thrown up on poles, they actually come in sets.
The top streamer usually has the family crest on it. Next, we have a black koinobori, which symbolizes the father. Then, we have a red koinobori, which symbolizes the mother. And finally, we have blue, green, purple, yellow, or orange koinobori, which symbolize the children. It’s one big, happy koinobori family.
Now that Children’s Day is over, Golden Week has come to an end and everyone will be going back to work. But don’t worry, there are many more holidays and festivals in Japan, so there will be another celebration soon!