Sunday 7 May 2017

Golden Week, Boy's Day, and Koi-Carp Streamers

Blue (small) , red (medium), and black (large) koi carp streamers flapping in the wind on Boy's Day (May 5th)
Koi-nobori streamers flying on Boy's Day (May 5th)
Friday was the final day of the series of bank holidays known as "Golden Week", a day which marked the "U-turn rush" back home for all those Japanese who took the opportunity to take a break either inside or outside Japan during this holiday period. April 29th was "Showa Day" (the birthday of Emperor Hirohito), May 3rd was "Constitution Memorial Day", May 4th "Greenery Day", and May 5th "Children's Day."

Although Children's Day, as the name implies, is supposed to celebrate the happiness of both boys and girls, it was originally Boy's Day (Tango no Sekku=端午の節句), one of the traditional five seasonal festivals (go-sekku =五節句) that used to be celebrated at the Japanese imperial court. The windsock-like carp streamers (known as koi-nobori or climbing koi in Japanese), which are often flown from balconies and rooftops at this time of year (picture right and video below), supposedly represent the energy, power, and determination to fight (much like koi-carp battle their way upstream or against the current). The qualities were traditionally thought to be desirable in boys - and also explain the popularity of koi tattoos. Thus, when a baby boy was born, koi-nobori were often bought as a gift; in the case of a baby girl, however, a set of dolls would be gifted to the family, for example by grandparents, which would then be displayed on March 3rd known as Hina Matsuri (The Doll Festival) - another of the big five seasonal festivals mentioned above and known as Momo no Sekku (although this day is not a national holiday). In recent years, however, perhaps reflecting more mobile families and changing gender roles, these customs are slowly disappearing (when I first came to Japan, koi-nobori were rather common; this year I had to search to find them).

For those interested, aside from Girl's Day (March 3rd) and Boy's Day (May 5th), the other three traditional go-sekku festivals are Nanakusa no Sekku (January 7th), Tanabata (July 7th), and Kiku no Sekku (September 9th). See here for a summary in table form (in Japanese) and here for a short explanation of each in English. These festivals are famously featured in a series of five beautifully coloured scrolls (五節句図) which can be viewed here (underneath the Monet and Renoir paintings).