Children’s Day and Koinobori

Koi fish flag
Kodomo no Hi (Children's Day) is a national holiday celebrated in Japan on May 5th. It is a day to honor children and celebrate their happiness while also expressing gratitude towards mothers.

Prior to 1948, there were separate holidays to celebrate boys and girls: Tango no Sekku  or Boys’ Day celebrated on May 5th and Hinamatsuri  or Girls’ Day celebrated on March 3rd. In 1948, the Japanese government renamed Tango no Sekku  to Kodomo no Hi, or Children’s Day, decreeing it to be a national holiday to celebrate the happiness of all children and to express gratitude toward mothers.

Several traditions from Tango no Sekku  have remained and are still celebrated during Kodomo no Hi  today including the flying of the whimsical and colorful koinobori, carp shaped windsocks, to honor sons (or children) with the hopes that they will grow up with good fortune and become healthy and strong. A traditional koinobori  set consists of at least five pieces. At the top, a pair of arrow-spoked wheels with a ball-shaped spinning vane, next a flying-dragon streamer that looks like a multi-colored windsock, followed by a black koinobori  to represent the father, a red koinobori  to represent the mother, and then additional smaller carps to represent each son (or child), varying in size, color and position to denote age. Koinobori  are traditionally made from paper or cloth and can range in size from a few inches long to a few meters long.

According to the 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).

Many homes and communities throughout Japan put up impressive displays of koinobori  from April to May to honor children and celebrate Kodomo no Hi. Through the support of Friends of Japan in Oregon and Uwajimaya, an array of koinobori  are on display at Uwajimaya Beaverton Plaza now through mid May, so please stop by to enjoy our beautiful display and honor the children and mothers who are a part of your life.