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Children’s Day in Japan: A guide to 'Kodomo no Hi'


Things change quickly in Japan. As soon as Hinamatsuri (Girl’s Day) ends and the cherry blossom season dies down, Japanese families start preparing for Golden Week — and even more specifically, for Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day).

To the untrained eye, fish swimming in the sky may seem like an odd affair — colorful carp-shaped flags hoisted from balconies and ominous-looking samurai armor adorning family living rooms. Let us fill you in on this traditional public holiday in Japan.

Kodomo No Hi: Back To The Origins

Image: iStock: rssfhs

During the Nara period (710 to 794), May 5 was known as Tango no sekku (端午の節句), a day for women to purify the house and rest their bodies. This was due to May being the rice planting season — a sacred time of year as many believed they had to welcome the rice god to pray for a bountiful harvest. Young women called “Saotome“, sacred beings of the time, were in charge of planting the rice and had to purify themselves as they were the ones welcoming the god of the rice fields.

However, during the Kamakura period (1185–1333), as the samurai class took control of the government, the day was changed to celebrate young boys instead. In 1948, the government changed the official name to Kodomo no Hi, to celebrate all children, but even today, the day continues to involve traditional customs of its samurai origins.

Most Japanese people still consider and celebrate the day as Boy’s Day. This does seem only fair as there is a Girl’s Day (Hinamatsuri) celebrated on March 3rd or “double third” — though Girl’s Day is not an official public holiday.

How do you celebrate Children’s Day in Japan?

Image: iStock: TATSUSHI TAKA

The Armor and the Beetle

Families celebrating Kodomo no Hi will decorate their homes with samurai armor and helmet miniatures, representing their wishes to raise strong boys. The armor (yoroi, 鎧) and helmet (kabuto, 兜) form the word yoroikabuto, which you will hear often around this time of the year.

Image: Toru Kimura

Those of you studying Japanese may find a useful mnemonic in the word for the helmet — kabuto — which sounds an awful lot like the kabutomushi (Japanese stag beetle) and in my eyes bears more than a passing resemblance. The kabuto was the inspiration behind Darth Vader’s helmet and the traditional versions still retain a sense of that menace.

The Carp Symbolism

Households with boys will also hoist fierce and colorful carp flags outside their homes, and you can witness the same in various public places across the country.

Click here to read more.

© Savvy Tokyo

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Any day for kids is okay with me. Girls' day, Boys' day, children's day. . .the world belongs to kids and you can't pay too much attention to them. These days take me back to when I had a little girl. Happiest days of my life. Make Girls' day official and have a stand alone day for all children. Boy or girl, the samurai stuff is great.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Love (and make ;) ) children, indeed they are the future.

I am happy for Japan to have those celebrations' days.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Koinobori are happily flown outside the homes of children, all children, not only the homes of boys.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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