How it Started
Children’s day is part of Golden week in Japan which is a cluster of national holidays starting April 29-May 5. On this day in particular, the Japanese people respect children’s unique personalities & celebrate their happiness. The Japanese celebrated this day since ancient times, but it only became a national holiday in 1948. Originally known as Tango No Sekku and celebrating boys and their fathers, it was later changed to include both sexes and their parents.
In the days leading up to Golden Week, families raise the carp-shaped koinobori flags that appear to swim in the wind. In the Japanese culture Carps symbolize courage and strength because of their ability to swim up a waterfall. Back in the days of the samurai, samurai warriors on the battlefield painted carp on their banners. For children’s day, the Japanese fly one koinobori flag for each parent and child.
Carp Streamer by suneko / CC-BY-3.0
This song is popularly sung among children and their parents to celebrate Children’s Day.
Carp streamers are higher than the roof
The biggest carp is the father
The small carp are children
Enjoying swimming in the sky
To hear an audio version, click here (click on “Koinobori”)
Like the girls on girls day (see our girl’s day blog), boys have dolls to display too, such as samurai ones. A popular one is Kintaro, a hero from the Hein period, usually seen with a large carp and traditional Japanese military helmet, called a kabuto which is a symbol of strength and vitality. When Kintaro grew up, he was known as Sakata no Kintoki, a man with great strength. It was said that he played with animals in the mountains when he was young, and rode bears instead of horses! They also display other samurai dolls and their weapons to wish that their boys grow healthy and strong.
Kintaro Riding the Carp by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Another symbol of this time is the Iris, which is thought to promote good health and ward off evil. Because of this and the fact that the Irises start blooming in May, families also take baths with iris leaves.
Making Newspaper Kabuto (Samurai Helmets)
Japanese kids enjoy origami, which is the art of paper folding. To celebrate Kintaro’s spirit, try making this simple origami samurai hat that you can wear!
Storytelling is a great way to introduce children’s to different cultures, engage their imagination, and spend quality time with them. Kintaro, the nature boy as mentioned before, was also a part of a popular children’s fable. You can a read “The Adventures of Kintaro, the Golden Boy”, here.
Another brave boy character from a popular children’s story, is Momotaro: The Peach Boy which can be read here. After a boy is found in a peach and lovingly raised by an elderly couple, the grateful boy decides to give back to his parents and help his land. He goes on a journey to find the thieves who stole from his land, return all their possessions, and return peace to the land. Along the way he encounters a few unlikely animals that help him on his journey. It is a story about giving back to parents and coming together for a common goal despite their differences. In both story links, you’re able to hear the audio version as well as download a PDF file.
Momotaro2.jpg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Rice cakes called mochi are wrapped in oak leaves (kashiwa-mochi) because oaks are considered strong. Alternatively, riced cakes are stuffed with red bean jam, or made with a sweet rice paste version wrapped in an iris or bamboo leaf (chimaki).
Kashiwa-mochi by Jiangang Wang, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Kids partake in Kyogen, a traditional Japanese comic theater performance founded around 600 years ago. They dress up in traditional costumes and use a distinctive acting style that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. Kyogen, which is also called “the art of laughter”, is actually older than Kabuki, the most well known of Japan’s traditional performing arts.
Kyogen, which means “wild words”, is all about inspiring laughter, although their topics can also include sorrow, sympathy and nostalgia. Kyogen performers tell stories using sometimes exaggerated movements, gestures and a skillful choice of words. Most plays involve 2 or 3 actors and last 15-20 minutes. Adult Kyogen actors are also always male, as with Kabuki.
On this special day, spend extra time with your kids, listen to them, nurture them, remind them how much they are loved, and have fun!