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JAPAN: Children’s Day/ (こどもの日 Kodomo no Hi)

Children’s Day is recognized on various days in many places around the world to honor children globally. Children’s Day (こどもの日 Kodomo no Hi) in Japan is a national holiday which is celebrated on May 5th and is a part of Golden Week. Golden Week is a collection of four national holidays all taking place within seven days. Combined with weekends, Golden Week is one of Japan’s three busiest holiday seasons, including New Year and the Obon.

Children’s Day was originally called Boy’s Day (端午の節句  Tango no Sekku) until 1948 when the government decreed that it be a national holiday celebrating the happiness of all children.

On this day, many Japanese still employ the customs that were allocated specifically for male children even though today, it is a celebration of both male and female offspring. Carp shaped banners known as koinobori are raised and a Kintaro doll (one for each male child) is displayed. According to Chinese legend, the carp which swims upstream becomes a dragon and the koinobori blowing in the wind resembles carp swimming upstream. Kintaro (Golden Boy) is a hero from Japanese folklore who displayed superhuman strength as a child. It is said that Kintaro was the former name of a samurai and hero during the Heian Period known as Sakata no Kintoki. The traditional Japanese helmet known as a kabuto is also displayed on this day. All of these symbols are regarded as representatives of strong and healthy male children.

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You may recall from my previous post about Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Day or Girl’s Day) which is celebrated on March 3rd (https://traveldreamscapes.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/japan-hinamatsuri-dolls-festival/) that platforms covered with a red cloth are used to display a set of ornamental dolls representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians in traditional court dress of the Heian period. The custom of displaying dolls began during the Heian period where people believed that the dolls had the ability to contain evil spirits. The hina dolls were set afloat on a boat and sent down a river out to the sea, supposedly taking troubles or bad spirits with them.

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On Boy’s Day or Children’s Day, the symbols of strong and healthy boys are displayed on green cloth along with arrangements of irises.

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The traditional foods served on Children’s Day include mochi wrapped in kashiwa leaves (oak leaves) known as kashiwa mochi. Another item is chimaki, a sweet rice paste wrapped in iris or bamboo leaves. The iris known as shoubu (菖蒲) has long leaves which resemble a katana (sword). Shoubu also means “war-like spirit” when written using different kanji characters (尚武). It is believed that the iris leaves ward of evil and promote good health. Consequently, it is customary to take a bath with floating shoubu leaves (shoubu yu) on this day.

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There is a koinobori children’s song that is often sung during this time of year. The lyrics are as follows:

屋根より高い 鯉のぼり

大きい真鯉は お父さん

小さい緋鯉は 子供達

面白そうに 泳いでる 

Yane yori takai koinobori

Ookii magoi wa otousan

Chiisai higoi wa kodomotachi

Omoshirosouni oyoideru 

Carp streamers are higher than the roof

The biggest carp is the father

The small carp are children

Enjoying swimming in the sky

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Japan is a country of many traditions and customs. Witnessing the various celebrations throughout the year first hand is an experience that cannot be rivaled. If you are fortunate enough to visit this beautiful country between March 3rd and May 5th, be sure to look into the celebrations set aside for the country’s children. The children are the future and their health and happiness is something we should all take an interest in.

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