Japanese Lessons

Everything You Need to Know About Children’s Day in Japan


Similar to America, political correctness has slipped into Japan. The festival once celebrating boys in samurai times (端午の節句) is now Children’s Day (こどもの日.) Boys, however, still take center stage. Samurai helmets (兜) and armor (鎧) are displayed inside. Sailing on spring winds are carp streamers (鯉のぼり.) In Japanese city apartments, sometimes the carp accompany the samurai armor. Carp are strong swimmers. The colorful fish are famous for fighting upstream currents. (A Chinese tale tells of carp that transform into dragons.) The prayer for boys is health and courage.

Some homes bring out legendary Kintaro dolls. (Kintaro, as the story goes, rode bears as a boy!) Children’s Day is also a day commemorating mothers.

Children’s Day is always May 5. It’s the finale to a string of four holidays in one Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク.) Caution: Golden Week is synonymous with travel in Japan. The weather may be sublime but the crowds can be challenging. It’s definitely a time to make reservations. Here’s the lineup for Golden Week.

carp streamers

Golden Week (GW) ゴールデンウィーク
Showa Day (April 29) 昭和しょうわ
(Commemorating the birthday of Emperor Hirohito whose reign is referred to as the Showa Period.)
Constitution Day (May 3) 憲法記念日けんぽうきねんび
Greenery Day (May 4) みどりの
Children’s Day (May 5) こどもの


carp streamers

Spring celebrations and Children’s Day also brings out the sweets. Kashiwa mochi(柏餅) appear. Rice cakes stuffed with red bean paste and presented in oak leaves. The Children’s Day was declared an official holiday in 1948. A few decades ago, Japanese patisseries started creating cute Children’s Day cakes.

Visit the Iwatsuki area of Saitama City for spectacular sights of koinobori, Children’s Day (and Hinamatsuri, Girl’s Day) dolls. Known as the Doll’s City, many manufacturers who specialize in Children’s Day and Girl’s Day are in Iwatsuki. They even have a museum. See the Togyoku Doll Museum site for details.

Togyoku Doll Museum
1-3- 2, Honcho, Iwatsuki-ku Saitama City, Japan
Tel: 0120-39- 3501
Web site: tougyoku.com/english.html

Words You’ll Want to Know for Japanese Children’s Day:

Child/Children 子供こども
Boy’s Festival
Boy’s Day
mother おかあさん
gratitude 感謝かんしゃ
holiday 休日きゅうじつ
day off やす
national holiday 祝日しゅくじつ
carp streamers こいのぼり
black (father) carp 真鯉まごい
red (mother) carp 緋鯉ひごい
colored carp (the children) 子鯉こごい

Kim Watkinson, The Ninja Baker
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