When I was growing up practically every Mother’s Day or Father’s Day I used to ask my parents “when is children’s day?” My mother, who was a wonderful woman, would always answer “every day is children’s day”. This answer of course was not exactly the one I wanted to hear but I resigned myself to my birthday and Christmas being the ‘best’ day for children (my criteria a little biased, I will admit).
In Japan however it seems that somebody must have heard my pleas for extra attention as children’s day is an actual holiday in their country that’s celebrated every year on May 5. Indeed, it’s been a special day in Japan since the Japanese government designated it so in 1948, although it’s not a day to give children presents but rather a day to celebrate their happiness and respect the fact that children’s personalities are different than adults.
Interestingly enough, children’s day (which is known as Kodomo no Hi in Japan) was actually referred to as ‘Boys Day’ until the Japanese government changed it to a national holiday, with a separate ‘Girls Day’ being celebrated on March 3. Not only is May 5 a day to celebrate happiness of children in Japan it is also a day for them to express their gratitude towards their mothers. (My mum would have liked the irony, I believe.)
As with many national holidays in Japan there are special flags that are flown on Children’s Day. These flags, shaped like carp (a type of fish) are different for each family. On each one are several drawings of actual carp fish. The first carp represents the father and the second mother while the third carp represents the firstborn son. If a family has more than one child there are other carp added for each one. (Luckily most Japanese families are quite small or there would be some huge flags flying.)
When these flags are put out on children’s day and the wind catches them it looks like the carp are swimming. Typical of Japan, the carp symbolizes something more than just a fish. In this case it is the ability to overcome obstacles and be determined and vigorous. Inside many Japanese homes you will also find figurines of samurai warriors and their kabuto, or helmets. These are said to inspire bravery and strength like the samurai themselves.
Just like with most national celebrations in other countries there are events all over Japan with children taking part in events like the ‘Kids Olympics’ and of course there are the prerequisite sweets for good children including sweet rice cakes and other Japanese delicacies.
So if you’re keen on visiting a country where, at least once a year, it actually is Children’s Day, then make sure to plan your trip to Japan so that you are there on May 5. Just remember to bring your carp flag and be prepared to thank your mum and your dad for taking care of you before you get any sweets.