Posted: April 12

Children’s Day – Festivals in Japan

Children’s Day is a national holiday celebrating the happiness of children. Marking the end of golden week it takes place on May 5th and is the third of the ‘five annual celebrations’ (Jan 1st, Mar 3rd, and so on).

Origins as Boy’s Day

Children’s day was originally called Tango no Sekku, ‘Boy’s Day’. It celebrated boys and fathers, as a counter point to Hina Matsuri which celebrates girls. In the 1940s the government changed it to promote family unity and celebrate all children and mothers as well.

Koinobori – Carp Streamers

Part of the celebration of children’s day is the flying of a flag or streamer called Koinobori. The streamers are windsocks designed to look like a carp. Carp are chosen as they denote strength, and there is a legend that a carp which swims up a river will transforming into a dragon and fly to heaven.

The carp were originally used to symbolize the male members of the family. However, after the switch to children’s day the top two carp now represent the mother and father with the smaller carp representing their children in age order. Despite this it is fairly common to only fly the top two ‘parent’ carp. The colourful streamer at the very top represents a dragon, perhaps the same one from the legend.

Traditionally a wind vane called yaguruma, ‘arrow wheel’ was at the top. It makes a pleasant clicking noise as it spins, but their precarious position makes them liable to falling and breaking so they aren’t used too often anymore.

Kintaro – The Boy Who Wrestles Carp

Kintaro, a popular, semi-historical character, is also honoured on children’s day. He was renown for his strength, even as a child, and is often depicted wrestling a carp several times his size. He is thought to have been based on Sakata Kintoki (c. 1000CE) who was famous for his prowess as a warrior.

You can often see his image on a large black carp displayed at temples or other public spaces. Parents will regularly decorate a newly-born boys bedroom with Kintaro figures around children’s day with the hope that they will grow up strong like Kintaro.

Koinobori in Kyotango

On the run up to children’s day there are a lot of places to see koinobori in Kyotango. Below are a few of the spots where you can see these impressive displays.

Inaba Family Merchant House

This historic property is adorned with carp streamers of all sizes. In addition to the large koinobori at the front there were some smaller ones outside the main door too. Inside there was a red one as you go from the courtyard to the house. They were also setting up the main display in the courtyard when I went to take photos.

The Inaba House (Japanese) also had an impressive Mushanobori, a warrior display. This kind of display would have been put on by wealthy families at the birth of their first son.

Fukuju-in Temple

This temple in Yuhigaura only flies one large black carp flag across the front of the main building. This carpp has a large red Kintaro wrestling it from the top.

Yuzakura Park

At the top of this cherry blossom park a pole is flying some koinobori. The height means there is a good amount of wind keeping the carp ‘swimming’.

Konishi River – Mineyama

The river that runs past the city hall, through the town of Mineyama has a lot of koinobori tied to the fence along side it. They vary in size and colours so the display remains visually interesting.

Amino Kominkan – Community Centre

Proof that you can find impressive displays all over the place. At the front of this rather non-descript community centre there were some large carp streamers.

Celebrating Happiness

As a celebration of children’s happiness this holiday hits the mark. After all watching giant carp streamers swimming through the sky is a sure fire way to bring a little childlike wonder and imagination into all of our hearts.