Kodomo no Hi: Children's Day in Japan

Kodomo no Hi こどもの日 : Children's Day in Japan

Tokyo, Japan. 2012

Children's Day: On May 5 each year, Japan celebrates children by hanging carp wind streamers called koinobori, that swim through the spring breeze. Originally called Tango no Sekku 端午の節句, (Tan:  “edge of first, go: noon, Sekku: “Festival”) the fifth day of the fifth moon in the lunar calendar was known as “Boys’ Day” or the “Feast of Banners.” Earlier in the year on March 3, a Girls’ Day called Hinamatsuri雛祭is celebrated, and red carpets display ornamental dolls dressed from the Heian Period. In 1948, the day was renamed Kodomo no Hi so as to “celebrate the happiness of all children and express gratitude toward mothers.”

 Children Celebrate the Tenjin Festival Festival in Osaka, July 2012. It was 104F that day!

Children Celebrate the Tenjin Festival Festival in Osaka, July 2012. It was 104F that day!

Tradition: The tradition of hanging the carp shaped wind to ward off evil spirits, remains a festive custom in Japan. Traditionally, specifically colored koinobori were flown to represent the members of family in individual households. For example; black (magoi father), red (in Ancient Japan: first born, Contemporary: mother) blue, green, purple and so on reflect the children. A large fish represents a parent. Hanging this fish talisman was a way of announcing the birth of a son during the Edo Period.Historians believe that the day was inspired by the  Chinese legend of a carp swimming successfully upstream against a waterfall to become a dragon. The koi , or nishikigoi 錦織鯉(brocaded carp) have a presence in Asian culture. Specific to Japan, the spirited and hardy koi have come to represent aspiration, courage, ambition and energy.

Fish are present in many of the famous ukiyo-e wood block prints by the famed Ando Hiroshige as well as in the celebrated haiku poetry of Matsuo Bashō.


Spring passes
and the birds cry out—tears
in the eyes of fishes
— Matsuo Bashō

In Action! Photo by Marcus Miller

Photo by Marcus Miller

Āto - Art : I visited Dick Blick which listed the supplies needed and used this lesson plan to make our own koinobori streamers! It took 2 classes Modifications that I made to the lesson plan:

-I ordered plain white Smart Fab and painted it with acrylic wash to get a mix of colors. I don't know they will hold up outside, but we were able to make some bright koinobori!

-I asked my students to design their own templates. We stapled our fish together

My students really enjoyed doing this project! We had so much fun, we did it again this year!  I often have students create Japanese Plum Blossom paintings to pair with our wind streamers. They are very easy to create and would make a fine display to celebrate Japan and spring! My colleague taught how to create this neat fish block print.

 May 2013 My student's Koinobori

May 2013 My student's Koinobori

Spring in Arnold Arboretum. May, 2014

Dōmo arigatōgozaimashita - Thank you very much!  I said "Arigatō" (thank you) more than any other in Japan and I had much to be grateful for.  My trip would not have been possible if it were not for my employer, St. Sebastian’s School and the encouragement of my family and close friends.  During my visit to Japan in July 2012, I was blessed to stay with my friends, the Kuromatsu family. They were incredibly kind and generous! My trip would not have been as rich and enjoyable without their guidance. What better way to learn about a country than to be with a trusted family! Japan permits, even commands time and space for gratitude. It’s something that I admire in Buddhism. I’ve visited many spiritual spaces in my lifetime, and Buddhist spaces in Japan are in harmony with nature. Water is present and a sense of spirituality abounds. I watched koi swim, deer graze, children laugh, lotus sway.

Quieting my mind has never been an easy task. In the quietest of my moments, when I am still (and I do sit still), I am often confronted by the loudest and largest of personalities in my circles and the greater questions in my life. Aren’t we all? Japan made me think about people who are stuck in their inclined preferences and routines. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of order and civility on crowded city streets always present with outlandish clothes and gourmet food. Maybe it was the ever present koi powerfully and peacefully swimming tucked away in abundant gardens. Japan was both a country that delivered a feast of the senses while provoking introspective meditation. 

This Koinobori Song is often sung by children. Wishing all Japanese children a prosperous and healthy year ahead!

屋根より 高い 鯉幟
大きな 真鯉は お父さん
小さい 緋鯉は 子供たち
面白そうに 泳いでる


やねより たかい こいのぼり
おおきい まごいは おとうさん
ちいさい ひごひは こどもたち
おもしろそうに およいでる


It's good to get messy in the Art Studio!

yane yori takai koinobori
ōkii magoi wa otōsan
chiisai higoi wa kodomo-tachi
omoshirosō ni oyoideru


Higher than the roof-tops are the koinobori
The large carp is the father
The smaller carp are the children
They seem to be having fun swimming.


Art Supplies & Lesson Plan

Book Suggestions for Elementary School Students:

Altmann, Julia. "One Day in Japan with Hokusai" Prestel, 2001.

MacMillian, Diane. "Japanese Children's Day & the Obon Festival" Enslow Publishing, 1997.

Reynolds, Betty. "Japanese Celebrations: Cherry Blossoms, Lanterns & Stars!" Tuttle Publishing, 2006.

Sakade, Florence. "Japanese Favorite Stories" Tuttle, 2014

Takabayashi, Mari. "I live in Tokyo" HMH for Young Readers, 2001.

Uegaki, Chieri. "Suki's Kumono" Kids Press, 2005.

Below are some photos from Japan