Monday, April 27, 2009

Children's day Part 1 - Koinobori

When May is just about to come, you may see people putting up flag-like fishes outside of their homes or inside buildings. That is called a Koinobori. Designed on a large piece of fabric (usually nylon), its etymology means "climbing (nobori). carp (koi)". Let's see why this fluttering fish is so important during this season and what it means in Japan.

Just as girls' day is celebrated in March (Hina Matsuri), there is also a day for boys called a "Kodomo no Hi" (Children's Day). On May 5th, boys are the star of the day. But why a carp? Carp are said to have strong life energy and can live in different areas. Also, they appear in numerous ancient legends as strong characters. That is surely why Koi (carp) are s such an important symbol for this day! The carp put up to sway along the streams of wind look powerful and strong; making their way up the sky. By representing the strength and courage of the carp, parents wish for their boys to grow up with these traits. It also is a message to the gods, asking them to bless newborn baby boys. Usually, the black carp is the father, the red carp is the mother, and the smallest one on the very bottom is the child. However, the colors are not too important and you can see many different and colorful varieties of Koinobori. The object above the father is there to protect the family from evil.

One area where you can view beautiful Koinobori in Japan is at Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture. Along the Tsuruudagawa river, which is a 20 minute walk from Tatebayashi Station, the "World's Greatest Village of Koinobori Festival" is held every year. As the festival with the greatest number of Koinobori put up (5283), it was registered in the Guinness Book of World Records in the year 2005. Today, thousands of Koinobori are put up when spring is about to come. When a spring breeze blows through the air, the Koinobori dance along with the wind; makes it look as if they are actually swimming along the river. That sure is a beautiful sight to see!!

There are many other areas in Japan that have Koinobori Festivals (e.g. Tsuetate Onsen in Kumamoto, Sagamigawa in Kanagawa, Ryujin Otsuribashi in Ibaraki); so what are you waiting for? Go get some courage and strength from the carps swimming in the air!

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