Children’s Day in Japan

Japan is no stranger to population woes of the modern era: Birth rates are down, people are working longer hours, and many young adults don’t see the benefits or point of marrying and raising a family. Amidst all this negative, the country still celebrates children and give thanks and gratitude towards their mothers on Children’s Day on May 5th.

Carp Streamers / Carp Banners (Koinobori)

You’ll see these everywhere in the month and weeks leading up to Golden Week ( a long week of holidays which includes Children’s Day). Their function is very simple once you know what to look for: the long black carp on the top represents the father, while the middle-length red carp represents the mother. Each subsequent carp represents children they have, from oldest to youngest.

Cities will also have the streamers on long strings across walking streets, with children coloring and decorating their own carp to be proudly displayed for the community. The old legend (borrowed from China) goes that a carp who swims upstream can eventually turn into a dragon. With the carp blowing in the wind, it appears that they are swimming upstream to reach their dragon destinies!

A Brief History of Children’s Day

Boys and girls used to each have their own separate holidays, with the Girl’s day having once been March 3rd (03/03). After World War II, in 1948, the government decided to merge the two together and declare it an official holiday. It had been celebrated for many, many years before the official designation, but now people would officially get time off from work, which is very important for a work-heavy society.

Kabuto - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
Kabuto can be pretty pricey! These smaller two are 9700 yen (89 USD) and 7000 yen (64 USD) respectively.

Other cool trappings of the holiday include a samurai (old-school military) helmet, or Kabuto, which serves as a symbol of strength and vitality.

In addition, there are Kintaro dolls. Kintaro is a famed hero from the Heian period whose adult name was Sakata no Kintoki. He was a strapping young lad with a penchant for riding animals much larger than him at a young age. A doll riding a carp is a common sight to be seen in some homes to bring strength and vitality to their children.

Do you celebrate Children’s Day in your country? Do you wish you did? Let me know how you celebrate down below.

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