On May 5, in Japan, is the Children’s Day (Kodomo no Hi 子供の日), dedicated to the celebration of the youngest happiness, an opportunity to express gratitude for their healthy growth and to pray to preserve them from illnesses and negative influences.
This day became a “national holiday” in 1948, takes place every year on May 5 (the fifth day of the fifth month) and is part of Golden Week.
It has a very ancient origin and, at the beginning, was known as Tango no sekku (端午 の 節句): it was a celebration of rural traditions, that marked the start of summer and the rainy season.
It took place in May, the month when insects make their first appearances damaging plants: since the first days of the month, the farmers tried to scare them with colorful banners and grotesque figures.
Over the years, these figures assumed more and more defined facial features until becoming reproductions of warriors, famous for their strength in battle; because the miniatures of these samurai were built by hand, in order to avoid damaging them, it was began to expose them in the houses: thus, they lost their original role and became a kind of amulet to keep away evil spirits from children.
Since the Tokugawa period (1603-1867), the celebration became one of the most important of the year for families, but it was a day dedicated exclusively to boys, while the Hina Matsuri (雛 祭り), which is still celebrated on March 3, was the day of the girls.
In 1948, the government decreed, on May 5, a national holiday to celebrate all children, male and female, and the festival was renamed Kodomo no Hi.
Today, the focus of the festival is in the banners shaped of carp, the koi-nobori (鲤 帜): huge carp of paper or fabric, symbolizing perseverance, value and strength, are raised on tall flagpoles in the homes’ gardens.
According to an ancient Chinese legend, indeed, the carps are able to swim against the stream and go up to very high waterfalls, becoming powerful dragons: so the koi-nobori swim against the wind and represent the wish that also the children can grow up tenacious and strong as the carp.
At home, dolls, representing feudal generals, are exposed, with swords, armor and helmets; in several regions, the children are passed inside the carp of paper, from mouth to tail, as a act good luck.
Other characteristic features the celebration of May 5 are the kites, the kashiwamochi (rice cakes filled with sweet bean paste and wrapped in oak leaves), that are distributed to neighbors and friends, and the chimaki (rice cakes wrapped in bamboo leaves, usually eaten in the family).
According the most ancient tradition, the children are washed in water with petals of iris: they believed these petals have the ability to eject evil influences and illnesses.