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Koinobori (鯉幟?), meaning "carp streamer" in Japanese, are carp-shaped wind socks traditionally flown in Japan to celebrate Tango no Sekku (端午の節句?), a traditional calendrical event which is now designated a national holiday; Children's Day (Kodomo no Hi, 子供の日). These wind socks are made by drawing carp patterns on paper, cloth or other nonwoven fabric. They are then allowed to flutter in the wind. They are also known as satsuki-nobori (皐幟?).
Children's Day takes place on May 5, the last day of Golden Week, the largest break for workers and also a week in which businesses usually close for up to 9–10 days. Landscapes across Japan are decorated with koinobori from April to early May, in honor of sons for a good future and in the hope that they will grow up healthy and strong.
A typical koinobori set consists of, from the top of the pole down, a pair of arrow-spoked wheels (矢車 yaguruma?) with a ball-shaped spinning vane, flying-dragon streamer (飛龍吹流し hiryū fukinagashi?) that looks like a windsock, a black koinobori and a red koinobori. If more boys are in the household, an additional blue, green and then, depending on the region, either purple or orange koinobori are added. The red koinobori's color can be varied as pink. These carp sets are flown above the roofs of houses with sons, with the biggest (black) koinobori for the father, next biggest (red) for the mother, and ranging down to the smallest carp for the youngest son.Interestingly however, according to the Japanese American National Museum, in the "children's song, the red one (higoi) represents the first born son. However, in modern Japan, many prefer to see it as mother (Japanese American National Museum).
These koinobori range from a few inches long to a few meters long. In 1988, the 100 m long koinobori weighing 350 kg was made in Kazo, Saitama.
According to Japanese American National Museum, the carp was chosen as a symbol for Boys' Day because "the Japanese consider it the most spirited fish -- so full of energy and power that it can fight its way up swift-running streams and cascades. Because of its strength and determination to overcome all obstacles, it stands for courage and the ability to attain high goals. Since these are traits desired in boys, families traditionally flew Koinobori from their homes to honor their sons." (Japanese American National Museum, 2006). According to About.com's Namiko Abe, "in a Chinese legend, a carp swam upstream to become a dragon" (Abe). According to Asia Kids Society, alongside the Koinobori tradition, "Samurai warrior figurines and samurai kabuto helmets are also displayed in homes to inspire strength and bravery." (Asia Kids Society, 2009).
According to two different sources, Children's Day has different beginnings. King states that "Boy's Day, now Children's Day, has been celebrated for more than 700 years, but no one knows exactly when or why it began. One story says that it started in the year 1282, as a celebration for a victory won by samurai warriors in a battle with invaders" (King, 2006). Asia Kids Society has another theory that "Until 1948, May 5 was called Tango no Sekku and only honored boys. A separate holiday called Hinamatsuri or "Dolls' Day" celebrated girls on March 3. Even now, on this day girls still receive dolls that had been passed down to their grandmothers and mothers" (Asia Kids Society, 2009). This fact led to a combination of holidays, and as described by AKS (Asia Kids Society), "For many families, May 5 still centers on boys. Some people say that Hinamatsuri for girls should become an equal holiday instead of combining them into one" (Asia Kids Society, 2009). Whilst both sources have different theories, no one truly knows when the holiday actually began.
Today, along with the raising of Koinobori in each household, Asia Kid Society states that children also "indulge in kashiwa-mochi", sticky rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves, and other sweets. As a tradition, throughout Children's Day, children also thank and show respect for relatives, parents, and teachers for support throughout their life (Asia Kids Society).
A famous Koinobori song often sung by children and their families. It was published in Ehon shōka haru no maki (Picture Songbook, Spring) in 1932. The lyrics are by Miyako Kondō (近藤宮子), the composer is unknown.
屋根より 高い 鯉幟
やねより たかい こいのぼり
yane yori takai koinobori
Higher than the roof-tops are the koinobori
- "Trend Illustrated Japanese-English Dictionary of Things Japanese", Shogakukan, 1999
- Japanese American National Museum. (2006, APR.). Koinobori: Celebrating the spirit of Boys Day. Retrieved from: http://janmstore.com/koinobori.html
- Abe, N. Children's day in Japan and Koinobori song. Retrieved from: http://japanese.about.com/od/japanesecultur1/a/Childrens-Day-In-Japan-And- Koinobori-Song.htm
- Asia Kids Society. (2009). Children's Day in Japan: Kodomo no Hi. Retrieved from http://kids.asiasociety.org/explore/childrens-day-japan-kodomo-no-hi
- King, J. (2006). Flying high. . Appleseeds, 8(5), 025. Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu/eds/detail?sid=437505e0-08ab-46a3-b7fa-bf0d3d8cc3aa@sessionmgr4004&vid=1&hid=4208&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU=
Media related to Koinobori at Wikimedia Commons