Saturday, August 6, 2011

Japanese Holidays:子供の日 Kodomo no hi, Childrens Day or Boys' Day

A Festival For Boys

Children’s day/Boys’ Day(Kodomo no hi )is celebrated on May 5th in Japan. This festival originally came from China and was observed on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month and is still celebrated according to the lunar calendar in other parts of Asia. In Japan it was originally known as Tango no Sekku   端午の節句 and is still primarily for boys, as girls have their own special day, Hina matsuri.. Sekku means a season’s festival Tan means edge or first and go means noon. There are other sekku days during the year and mark other festivals. Nanakusa no sekku is the seventh day of the first month, Hina matsuri is the 3rd day of the third month, and Tanabata is the seventh day of the seventh month. Japan now follows the Gregorian calendar, so these dates have been changed to follow suite. Some of these festivals are observed one month later in some areas of Japan. This is because the lunar calendar date is actually closer to the Gregorian day of the next month. There is another festival day “Double Ninth Festival” on the ninth day of the ninth month,(nine being a lucky number in China)but is not much celebrated in Japan.

The main activity on Children’s Day is displaying the carp streamers (koi nobori). In ancient China, they said a carp swimming upstream would become a dragon. In Japan, carp are a symbol of strength and it is hoped the boys will be strong like carp. They are flown on a tall pole set up outside the house. On the very top there is a double pinwheel-like decoration, then a colorful windsock streamer. The large black carp at the top (magoi) represents the father, the medium-sized red carp (higoi) represents the mother, and the small carp represents the son. There would be another carp of a different color added for each son in the family. Daughters did not traditionally receive a carp, but now may in some families. The koi nobori may be flown for a month or more. In many localities all over Japan, they suspend long ropes over rivers or between mountains and hang hundreds of carp streamers. Blowing in the wind, they look like they are swimming upstream. It's one of the most beautiful sights in Japan.


 Another practice is the displaying of a small samurai helmet or Kabuto, usually with a miniature coat of arms or bow and arrows. These are beautifully decorated and housed in a glass case or dsplayed on a stand. Also shown are images of the folktale boy hero Kintaro. Kintaro was the child name of Sakata no Kintoki, a famous real life samurai. According to legend, Kintro’s father was a dragon and the boy lived in remote mountains with his mother. He was extremely strong, rode on a bear and was friend to the animals. In one story, while swimming, he chases and then rides on a gigantic carp. He is always represented as a robust boy with a bowl haircut, naked except for a traditional red bib-like apron. Kintaro, kabuto, and carp are all symbols of strength and vitality. Attributes parents hope their children will posses. Displaying these symbols on Boy’s day goes back to ancient times, but today it is big business. There are specialty shops that sell kabuto and carp steamers as well as other festival goods. They come in all sizes and designs. They are usually quite expensive, costing hundreds of dollars.

Various mochi rice cake dishes are traditionally served on this day. Kashiwa-mochi are rice cakes filled with sweet bean paste and served wrapped in oak leaves. Chimaki are a slightly different kind of mochi served wrapped in bamboo leaves.

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