May 5th is a national holiday in Japan called こどもの日/こどものひ/Kodomo no hi/Children’s day. Children’s day is to respect the personality of the child, to strive for the child's happiness, and to be grateful to the mother. But originally, it was a celebration of boys called 端午の節句/たんごのせっく/Tango no sekku which originally came from China. It was a day to wish for the growth of boys. This Children’s day is much like ひなまつり (Hinamatsuri) on March 3rd, a holiday to celebrate girls. The event of Tango no sekku originally came from a Chinese event to ward off evil spirits. It is held mostly on May 5th but in some areas, it’s held on a month later, on June 5th or on the 5th day of the 5th month in the lunar calendar. In China, it is still commonly held on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. For the families with a baby boy, it is a first seasonal event, so it’s often celebrated grandly with the whole family especially in areas where there is a strong sense of family. Because May 5th is a national holiday and it falls during a major holiday weekend called “Golden week”, it is celebrated with more family members than the ひなまつり(Hinamatsuri). However, in today's society of the nuclear family, the way people spend their time is becoming more diverse, as people go out together with their children with just parents.
Traditions of Children’s day
Around May 5th, people display armour, helmet and warrior dolls in the house with the hope that the boy would grow up to be a strong, tough and wise person. The armour and helmets are meant to protect the boy’s body. They are also symbols of strength and vitality.
People also display 鯉のぼり/こいのぼり/Koinobori/flag with a picture of carps. Because in China, carps were symbols of success in life.
Another tradition to celebrate is to decorate home with iris leaves, soak leaves in the bathtub, and drink iris wine. The bath with the iris leaves is believed to drive out evil spirits from the body. This is because iris leaves look like a Japanese sword, katana and is a good luck charm for boys. Another reason is that iris is called 菖蒲/しょうぶ/Shobu in Japanese and that is a homonym with words 勝負 and 尚武. The word 勝負(shobu) means to fight and 尚武(shobu) means to respect martial arts.
Food of Children’s day
On children’s day, people eat 粽/ちまき/Chimaki and 柏餅/かしわもち/Kashiwa mochi to wish for the healthy growth of children. Chimaki is eaten in the Kansai region while Kashiwa mochi is eaten in the Kanto region. Chimaki originally came from China and in most of the regions of Japan, it is glutinous rice with seasoned meat, bamboo shoots, and shiitake mushrooms wrapped in bamboo bark and steamed. But in the Kansai region, chimaki is a white, sweet, long and thin rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves. In this case, we are talking about chimaki from the Kansai region which is a 和菓子/わがし/Wagashi/Traditional Japanese sweets. Chimaki is believed to be a protective charm.
The customary to eat Kashiwa mochi is unique to Japan. Kashiwa is an oak tree and it has spread as a lucky charm to “keep the family line alive” because the old leaves do not fall off until new shoots start to grow.
The traditions of Children’s day can be seen in other countries, such as China, South Korea and Vietnam. Although the origin of the event is the same, the traditions and cultures are unique to each country so it might be interesting to check them out.