May 5th in Japan every year is a holiday called Children’s Day or Kodomo no Hi (子供の日). This holiday was originally the third of five sekku (節句) or seasonal holidays in ancient Japan and a counterpart to Hinamatsuri or Girl’s Day. The 5/5 date, along with Hinamatsuri’s 3/3 date is no coincidence. Most of the sekku holidays have traditional dates like that: Tanabata is 7/7 and the Day of the Chrysanthemum is 9/9, and many of them have Chinese origin as well. 5/5 is also a holiday in China as well.
According to an old cultural guidebook that I previously owned, Children’s Day used to be called the Day of the Iris (ayamé no hi, 菖蒲の日) in traditional times. The term for Iris is usually called ayame (菖蒲), but the Chinese characters can also be read as shōbu, which happens to be a homophone of another word that meant warlike spirit, or martial prowess (尚武), which sounded manly and hence it became a festival for boys. By 1948, the holiday was broadened to Children’s Day and has remained that way since.
One of the most common displays you’ll see on Children’s Day are the koinobori (鯉のぼり) wind-socks. These wind socks intentionally look like Japanese koi fish, and are usually displayed in groups of 2 to 4. My kids used to make them out of paper each year in Japanese preschool.
The other common tradition is to see samurai armor displayed. If a household has boys in the home, then families setup miniature display of armor, or in our case just the helmet (kabuto 兜) and weapons, some time in April until shortly after Children’s Day. However, schools and preschools also make kabuto helmets and armor out of construction paper for kids to dress up in too. Everyone gets into the spirit that way.
My son, who was born several years after his big sister, is really excited about Children’s Day because he knows he will be spoiled extra, even in these trying times.
Among other things, my wife was able to get kashiwa-mochi (柏餅), which is a special treat made of soft rice-cakes wrapped in White Oak leaves. The leaves are tough and inedible1 (unlike sakura-mochi for Girl’s Day) so unwrap the mochi first and enjoy.
2020 under lockdown is an especially tough year for everyone, especially kids. But I sincerely hope kids everywhere have a terrific Children’s Day and feel loved and appreciated. 👨👩👧👦
1 Learned that one the hard way. 😅