Kodomo-No-Hi (Children's Day)

Type of Holiday: Folkloric
Date of Observation: May 5
Where Celebrated: Japan
Symbols and Customs: Carp, Horse, Iris


What is known today as Kodomo-No-Hi or Children's Day originated as TangoNo-Sekku or Boys' Day. It can be traced back to China, where many years ago a young man named Ch'ü Yuan was so upset by the terrible conditions of his time that he drowned himself in a river, believing that from another world he would be better able to assist his countrymen. His self-sacrifice took place on May 5, which became known as Boys' Day during the ninth century because parents hoped that their sons would display the same spirit of devotion and selflessness. Each household would erect tall bamboo poles outside and attach streamers in the shape of CARP for each of their sons, while inside they would display figures of famous Samurai warriors from Japanese history or legend, dressed in shining suits of armor.

In 1948, Boys' Day was expanded to include girls, and it was renamed Children's Day. The purpose of this day is to impress upon both boys and girls the importance of being good citizens and of showing courage and strength in the face of adversity. But in fact, the customs and activities associated with this day still tend to focus on boys. Families fly carp wind-socks and display military heirlooms and small images of famous feudal warriors-complete with miniature swords, armor, and helmets-which are meant to inspire courage and bravery. Many local shrines and communities hold special festivities for children, including lion dances, sumo wrestling, kendo (fencing with bamboo staves), and climbing competitions.



The custom of flying banners or wind-socks in the shape of carp dates back to the Tokugawa period in Japanese history, when farmers frightened away insects by Kodomo-No-Hi

hanging bright banners and grotesque figures in their fields and gardens. Later, these were transformed into representations of warriors and, instead of acting as scarecrows, were displayed indoors to remind young boys of the bravery and accomplishments of the Samurai.

The carp replaced the warrior figures around 1772 because people wanted a more visible, outdoor display. The carp is a symbol of strength and determination because it swims against the current, leaps up waterfalls, and is said not to quiver when touched with a knife. As the carp banners that are suspended from poles outside people's houses on Children's Day billow in the wind, they appear to swim against an invisible upstream current, embodying the virtues of perseverance and courage that families hope their children will display.


The original observance of Boys' Day was called Tango-No-Sekku. Tango means "First Day of the Horse," and the display of horses during this festival symbolized the attributes of manliness, bravery, and strength desired in boys.


During the Nara period, Tango-No-Sekku (see above) was also known as ShobuNo-Sekku or the Feast of the Iris, a plant believed to have magical restorative qualities. The swordlike leaves were placed at the entrances to houses, on the rooftops, and under the eaves to ward off evil. In the early seventeenth century, young boys would tie shobu leaves into bundles and strike them against the ground, making a loud noise. Today, boys carry wooden swords known as shobu- katana or "iris swords."

It is still a tradition on this day for young people to bathe in hot water in which iris leaves have been steeped. The leaves not only give the bathwater an unusual fragrance but are also believed to drive away illness and to instill in them the spirit of the warrior. Some people chop up the leaves and mix them with sake, the rice wine once enjoyed by the Samurai. Rice balls wrapped in iris leaves, known as chi- maki, are also served on May 5.


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Japanese Culture and Community Center of Northern California www.jcccnc.org/events/childrensday.htm
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Kodomo-no-Hi (Children's Day)

May 5
Kodomo-no-Hi is a national holiday in Japan that was known as Boys' Day from the ninth century, but became a day for both boys and girls in 1948. Today the day is observed largely with family picnics, but some still practice the old custom of flying wind socks in the shape of carp, a common Japanese food fish. Households with sons erect tall bamboo poles outside the home and attach streamers in the shape of carp for each son. The carp supposedly represents the strength, courage, and determination shown in its upstream journeys. The festivities are part of Golden Week, which also includes Greenery Day (April 29) and Japan Constitution Memorial Day (May 3).
Japan Information Network, Japan Center for Intercultural Communication
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Tokyo, 102-0093 Japan
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BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 93
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Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.