From the end of April and beginning of May each year, Japan celebrates a series of public holidays collectively known as “Golden Week”. The week-long holidays start with the celebration of Showa Day, and ends on May 5th with Children’s Day, or Kodomo-no-hi. Nowadays, Golden Week is an opportunity for busy workers to take a vacation with family and friends, but Children’s Day still holds great significance within Japanese society. Here’s what Children’s Day celebrations look like in Japan!
A History of Children’s Day in Japan
Historical records show that a version of Children’s Day has been celebrated since ancient times at the imperial court. Originally known as Tango-no-sekku, it was celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth moon according to the Chinese calendar. Since switching to the Gregorian calendar, this became the 5th of May.
Children’s Day is fundamentally a celebration of the young ones in our society, embracing their fun-loving personalities and wishing for their lasting happiness. Before 1948, this holiday was known as Boys’ Day, while a separate Girl’s Day (Hinamatsuri) was celebrated on March 3rd. Since being changed to Children’s Day, there is no longer this distinction and all children are recognized equally; though Hinamatsuri is still celebrated.
How Japan Celebrates Children’s Day
The most prominent symbol of Children’s Day in Japan is the Koi-nobori, a stick or flagpole with carp-shaped windsocks attached. These can be seen by the rivers and in front of houses and buildings around the city, and sold in shops. When the wind blows, the carps appear to be swimming. While there are variations, the carps usually appear in a set of three— a large black carp representing the father, a medium-sized red carp representing the mother, and a small blue one for the child. As carps are hardy and strong fish always capable of swimming upstream, they represent the adults’ wishes for their children to grow up healthy and strong.
Families with sons may also display a traditional military helmet called kabuto around the house. The helmet represents strength and vitality, and is thought to give protection to the children.
No holiday is complete without food, and Children’s Day is often celebrated by eating Kashiwa mochi, which are rice cakes with a red bean filling, wrapped in an oak leaf. Because oak leaves cling onto their branches year-round until new buds begin to grow, they’re thought to be a symbol of a lasting generation.
Though Children’s Day isn’t a major universal holiday, it places emphasis on children- some of the most important people in our lives, and society too. Through embracing symbols like the carp, parents and other adults can express their wish for the next generation’s health and wellbeing, while making it a fun and interesting day for the young ones too.
To imbue a little of Japan’s spirit for Children’s Day into your home, try making some origami carps and kabuto, which is sure to be an afternoon of fun for the whole family!