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Celebrating Children

I recently returned from a trip to Tokyo, Japan. My time there happened to coincide with Japan's Golden Week which is a culmination of four national holidays, Showa Day, April 29, honoring the birthday of former Emperor Showa and a day for public reflection on the turbulent reign of Emperor Hirohito, ranging from totalitarianism to the post-war reconstruction and transition into a democratic state; May 3, Constitution Day, marking the day in 1947 when Japan's postwar constitution was put into effect; May 4, Greenery Day, a day dedicated to the environment; and May 5, Children's Day.

Koinobori, Carp Banners, Tokyo Tower, May 2023

The contemporary Children’s Day in Japan has its origins in a much older tradition tied to the Lunar calendar and Chinese Zodiac, which since the 8th century had celebrated girls on March 3rd (hinamatsuri or “Doll Festival”) and boys on May 5th (tango-no sekku or “Festival of Banners”). After the devastation of World War II, the Japanese government in 1948 rededicated May 5th as a national holiday for both boys and girls, honoring and wishing for the health, happiness, and good fortune of all children, and for giving thanks to mothers.

Ever since, while girls still often receive dolls from their grandmothers and mothers on March 3rd, May 5th is the big event for "Children’s Day" itself, with many colorful traditions. Perhaps the most iconic is the flying of Koinobori – cloth streamers designed to look like vibrantly-colored carp.

"Why a carp?", you may ask.

As the old Japanese folklore goes, there was once a time when many fish tried to swim up the stream of a river named Koga River. The currents were so strong that all the fish in it failed to conquer the water. However, of all the fish to attempt to swim upstream, it is said that a golden carp was the only one that successfully reached the upper stream and, in so doing, was magically transformed into a mighty dragon. Thus, the carp became to symbolize strength and perseverance.

Before 1945, a large black carp streamer and a smaller red and yellow one were flown to symbolize father and son. But by the 1950s, the red and yellow carp streamer came to be understood as representing the mother. Other colors of Koinobori were added, including blue, green, orange, and purple, along with various sizes, to represent all the family's children, both sons and daughters.

Seeing the Koinobori streamers flying in the sky at Tokyo Tower brought back fond memories of how my own family celebrated Children's Day. Mom would decorate our home Obutsudan (family altar) with small Koinobori streamers and she would always make something special for dinner.

So, even though the official holiday has passed, you can still celebrate your own Children's Day by getting your whole family involved in making your very own cute Koinobori origami streamers. Check out this Youtube video to see how:

(to be continued)

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