May 5th is the date of Children’s Day in Japan! Historically known as Tango no sekku, the Double Fifth, or Boy’s Day, this holiday was originally a celebration for the health and growth of boy children and fatherhood, making it the natural cultural counterpart to Hinamatsuri. In 1948, the Japanese government re-named the holiday to Children’s Day in order to extend the celebration to all children. In spite of this, however, most of the motifs surrounding the celebration of boys on this holiday have remained relatively unchanged. Much of the symbolism surrounding Children’s Day revolves around inspiring strength and bravery, as well as celebrating the natural happiness of children.
One of the most common ways Children’s Day is celebrated in Japan is by flying koinoburi, or carp-shaped flags outside of public buildings and family homes. According to local folklore, carp are known for their tenacity and strength and are revered for their ability to persist through difficulty by swimming upstream, even through waterfalls. A typical koinoburi features several stacked carp flags of different sizes and colors. The black carp, which is also the largest, sits on top and symbolizes the father of the household. The next carp down, which is red, represents the mother. The third carp, which is blue represents the oldest child. Additional flags may be added in other colors to represent each subsequent younger sibling, so a large family may end up with a very long koinoburi!
Another way that families celebrate Children’s Day is through the display of yoroikabuto, a type of ornamental samurai helmet. In very much the same way as the ornamental doll sets used for Hinamatsuri, yoroikabuto are gifted or passed down to a couple upon the birth of their first son. The helmets are usually child-sized in proportion, and set atop a type of decorative table near the family shrine. Children also sometimes wear helmets made from folded paper during festivities. It is thought that displaying the yoroikabuto will bring good luck and inspire the boys in the household to grow up brave and strong.
Finally, no Japanese holiday is complete without some kind of special, ceremonial food and Children’s Day is no exception to this! There are two dishes that are traditionally specifically associated with Children’s Day. One of them is called chimaki, and consists of a glutinous rice cake steamed inside of a bamboo leaf. Chimaki can be made in a sweet, dessert form, or also in a savory form packed with vegetables. The other food associated with Children’s day is strictly a dessert, called kawashimochi. Kashiwamochi is made from a glutinous rice cake (mochi) filled with red bean paste, and then wrapped in a fresh, young leaf from a kashiwa oak tree. Other popular, though not strictly ceremonial, dishes for Children’s Day include chirashi sushi, karaage, and potato salad. It is a kid's holiday after, all, so the most popular foods for Children's Day tend to be the ones most popular with, well, actual children!