Because we teach Okinawan martial arts, and because our kids’ karate program is popular, our dojo takes an interest in Japan’s Children’s Day. A friend visited Japan recently and spoke about the carp flags flying in preparation of this holiday. It takes place as the third and last national holiday in Japan’s Golden Week. May 3rd is Constitution Memorial Day, the 4th is Greenery Day and the 5th is Children’s Day.
JAPAN’S CHILDREN’S DAY HISTORY
Once upon a time in Japan, they celebrated Girl’s Day or Doll’s Festival on March 3rd and Boy’s Day on May 5th. The “double threes” and “double fives” of those dates are considered good luck numbers in Chinese culture. And adopted in Japanese culture as well. For each respective day, families celebrated their daughters and/or sons. For Boy’s Day, they hung a string of carp or koi flags representing the male members of the nuclear family. The biggest on the top symbolized the father, next biggest symbolized the eldest son, and so on. This Japanese holiday has been celebrated for hundreds of years.
In 1948, the Japanese government changed the holiday to Children’s Day in order to recognize, celebrate and wish happiness to all children. That was when it was also declared a national public holiday. And they declared it a time to show gratitude toward mothers. As a part of Japan’s Children’s day, kids also thank other people who make a difference in their lives such as fathers and teachers.
FLAGS FOR JAPAN’S CHILDREN’S DAY
The carp flags have evolved to include father, mother, eldest child, next, eldest, and so on. They still get smaller in size for each younger family member. There are specific colors that are typically used for each person in the family. The carp are symbolic of a legend where they are the only fish who persevere enough to make it up a waterfall and are then turned into dragons. The Japanese proverb “Koi no takinobori” mean’s “koi or carp’s waterfall climbing.” It is about succeeding vigorously in life.
FOOD AND ARMOR FOR JAPAN’S CHILDREN’S DAY
There are specific foods that are prepared and enjoyed for Japan’s Children’s Day. These include sticky and sweet rice cakes. This blog has a couple recipes and more info on the holiday. Another part of the celebration is families in Japan will decorate their living rooms with samurai armor. Traditionally, this symbolized their wish that their boys would grow up strong.
This holiday holds ancient roots. Perhaps then, as now, it was a time to appreciate and celebrate children as well as the supportive people who raise them. And speaking of strong children, the link to my story for kids about why and how “samurai” children protect themselves, is here.