Children’s Day (Kodomo-no-hi) on the 5th May, is the last event in the series of national holidays during Golden Week. Initially, the event was aimed at the celebration of young boys only, however that focus widened to also include all children, with the girls having their own celebration on March 3rd called Hina-Matsuri (girl’s day or doll festival in English).
Towns and families bearing sons decorate their homes with Samurai related pieces, such as armor (Yoroi), helmets (Kabuto), and dolls (called Gogatsu dolls that are modelled after legendary warriors) as they are believed to protect boys’ health and happiness.
In addition, carp-shaped windsocks (Koi-nobori) are flown outside, creating the illusion of them swimming when they catch gusts of wind. They represent the energetic spirit of young boys and symbolize future success as carp are tenacious fish that can swim upstream and are even noted to climb waterfalls without giving up. Koinobori consist of three or five different colors and sizes. The biggest black Koinobori is called “Magoi” which is placed on the top of the pole. The middle one is red and called “Higoi”, and the rest are smaller blue or green ones called “Kogoi”. Together they represent a family (Magoi is the Father, Higoi is the Mother and Kogoi are the children). This tradition is slowly fading through time however they can still be seen swimming in the sky in some towns.
Many of the customs practiced during Children’s Day have been inspired by Samurai philosophy. For instance, people take special baths using Shobu which are leaves from the iris plant. The term “Shobu” can elicit different meanings and symbolisms (depending on the characters used). Shobu in the martial sense, means to become fearless by strengthening the body and mind via hard training and having the courage to accept and defeat challenges at all costs. This martial meaning also manifests itself with the use of the Shobu plant in the bath as its leaves signify the Japanese sword due to their pointed shape, and are therefore seen as a symbol of strength. It is said that the leaf’s strong aroma cleanses the body of evil spirits and keeps children healthy and strong.
Before and after Golden Week, Kashiwa-mochi – a rice cake wrapped in an oak leaf is eaten. The oak leaf symbolizes a long-lasting family line as old oak leaves do not fall until a new sprout appears. In the past, this was a serious custom however these days, Kashiwa-mochi are simply enjoyed as seasonal sweets.