Japanese American Traditions

Koinobori: Celebrating the Spirit of Boys Day

May 5th is celebrated as Children’s Day (kodomo no hi), although traditionally, this day was designated as Boys Day, or tango no sekku. Japanese families in the United States and Japan celebrate the traditions of Boys Day by displaying koinobori, beautiful carp windsocks flown outside of homes to wish sons a good future.

The carp has become the symbol of tango no sekku or Boys’ Day because the Japanese consider it the most spirited of 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.

A set of streamers usually has three or more fish. The large black one (magoi) represents father. According to a Japanese children’s song, the red one (higoi) represents the first born son. However, in modern Japan, many prefer to see it as mother. The small ones (usually green and blue) represent the sons in the family. A new streamer is added each time a new baby is born.

In Japan, Koinobori Matsuri is celebrated on kodomo-no-hi, which is a national holiday. On Children’s Day, families typically display warrior dolls and hang koinobori kites from poles outside the homes. Koinobori Matsuri is a related festival in which 800 koinobori are flown in the mountain town of Mamba in Gunma Prefecture. More than 50,000 people attend the festivities which include a bazaar where locally grown fruits and vegetables as well as souvenirs are sold. It is also popular to ride boats along the Kanna River, passing under the 800 koinobori on display. The carp fish is central to the theme of both Koinobori Matsuri and Children’s Day because it is a powerful swimmer and has become a symbol of children growing up to be healthy and strong.

Celebrate the customs of Childrens’ Day with your own koinobori set from the Museum Store!

April 2006








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