Last March, Hinamatsuri or Girls’ Day was celebrated in Japan to pray for the daughters’ happiness and good health. Today, the 5th of May, is Kodomo no Hi or Children’s Day. It was declared as a national holiday to commemorate the happiness of children and show gratitude towards mothers. This day was originally called Tango no Sekku or Boys’ Day. Despite changing it to include both girls and boys, most Japanese still celebrate Boys’ Day. This makes it fair for both genders to have designated holidays.
Here are some interesting highlights of this festive day.
Like the dolls in Hinamatsuri, the carp fishes symbolize Kodomo no Hi. Families with young boys raise colorful carp-shaped koinobori flags outside their homes. One carp flag is displayed for each boy or child in their backyard or sometimes on the balcony. Around three to five different colored carp streamers are usually displayed, each color representing a family member. Black represents the father (magoi), red represents the mother (higoi), and the rest represent each child.
In Chinese legend, a carp that can leap over the Dragon Gate can transform into a magnificent dragon.
2. Samurai Armor
Symbols and traditions for Children’s Day or Boys’ Day come from the samurai culture. Samurai clans prepare young boys for their future role as a samurai. The samurai armor (yoroi) and helmet (kabuto) represent the family’s prayers for their sons to grow into strong and courageous young men. They are also symbols of protection from any illness or injury. With this, young boys exhibit a set of Samurai armor and dolls of famous warriors in their homes.
The kabuto is very symbolic. It displays a samurai’s rank and power by its notable decorations. A tightly worn helmet means being vigilant after a victory to ensure continuous glory, and taking it off means to surrender.
The helmet or kabuto sounds like and resembles a kabutomushi or a Japanese stag beetle. FUN FACT: The kabuto was the inspiration for Darth Vader’s helmet!
On this day Japanese families typically serve chimaki and kashiwa mochi. A chimaki is a sticky rice dumpling served with meat and vegetables. It can also be served as a dessert with a sweet red bean paste. A kashiwa mochi is a rice cake filled with either a sweet red bean paste or sweet miso-based white bean paste. This mochi is wrapped in a pickled oak leaf or a kashiwa.
Unlike the Girls’ Day being an observance, Boys’ Day became a regular national holiday. Since it became a public holiday, it was modified to celebrate both genders. Some families still observe Boys’ Day to give equal importance to young boys.