Celebrated on May 5, Children’s Day is the final day in the Golden Week holiday period. It originates from the Chinese “Dragon Boat Festival.”

In the Nara period (710-794), this custom became a court event called “Tango-no-Sekkai”. People wore shobu (irises), which were thought to ward off evil spirits, or had their roofs thatched, and decorated with iris-woven medicine balls to pray for good health. After the Edo period, it became a festival to pray for success in life.

Tango-no-Sekku is also called Shobu-no-Sekku because it is celebrated with irises. After the Kamakura period (1185-1333), when samurai became more powerful, Tango-no-Sekku became more important among samurai families because the word “shobu” (iris) is related to “shobu” (warrior) and the leaves of the iris resemble swords. When a boy was born to be the successor of the family, people began to celebrate in a big way, wishing for his health, growth, and success in life.

In the Edo period (1603-1868), it became one of the five Sekku festivals, and spread not only among samurai families but also among ordinary people. Stores selling samurai dolls and streamers started to appear, and it developed into a major event.

It was also during the Edo period that carp streamers were born. Originally, samurai families had the custom of putting up a banner with their family crest, called “Nobori,” to celebrate the birth of a boy. The common people who tried to adopt this custom invented the carp streamer, and it has been used to this day.

As we mentioned in our March article about Hina Matsuri (Girls Day), Children’s Day also has their own type of dolls called Gogatsu Ningyo or May doll, which are displayed from late March to Mid-April before Children’s Day. There are various types of decorations, such as “armor decorations” that include armor, bows and arrows, “helmet decorations” that resemble a helmet, and “samurai dolls” that look like warriors.

If you’ve ever travelled in Japan during April & May, you may well have seen the flying carp streamers or Koi nobori, which can be seen all over the country in varying sizes from those hung on small balconies to massive displays that stretch across hundreds of meters.  Carp streamers are to wish for the growth and success of boys and although May 5 is known as Children’s Day, it’s commonly thought of as Boys Day. It is based on the Chinese legend of “Toryumon,” in which a carp that climbed a waterfall called Ryumon became a dragon and ascended to the sky. Koi is a fish with a strong vitality that can survive in an unfavorable environment such as a pond or a swamp, so the wish is for them to grow strong and become splendid in any environment.

Iris are supposed to ward off evil spirits and around Children’s Day you’ll often see irises in all the florists. Some people even bathe with iris petals and or the leaves as a way to ward of any bad spirits and wish for good health.

Kashiwa Mochi or Kashiwa rice cakes have been part of Children’s Day since the Edo period and is considered a symbol of continuity and prosperity of the family and its descendants.