An annual Japanese festival celebrating children and their health, happiness and growth, Kodomo no hi – or Children’s Day – occurs on May 5, part of the Golden Week of public holiday celebrated in the nation. Traditionally, separate annual Girls’ Day festivals (March 3) and Boys’ Day festivals (May 5) were celebrated, but the two were amalgamated into a joint Children’s Day in 1948.
As part of the celebration, carp banners – known as ‘koinobori’ – are flown outside homes, with each colour representing a member of the family: black being the father, red the mother, and blue, green, and orange for children. In Japanese tradition, the carp represents strength, courage, and tenacity, swimming upstream against the current.
In addition to carp, dolls are also displayed to represent boys and girls, often on fabric-covered steps. During the Edo period (1603-1868), from which most of Maidstone Museum’s Japanese collection has been gathered, dolls representing the Imperial Court and guard would be displayed for Girls’ Day, while suits of armour and figures of traditional Samurai and warrior heroes would appear on Boys’ Day.
Flower and plant symbolism is also associated with the Children’s Festival. Flowers and plants in bloom during that season – such as the iris – would be used as decorations, with petals used in baths, and peach blossoms put in white sake. Food traditionally eaten during the festivities, meanwhile, include the Japanese sweet ‘Kashiwa mochi’ – rice cakes with red bean paste wrapped in oak leaves.
You can find out more about Japanese traditions – and particularly the Edo period – by visiting Maidstone Museum. We have a fascinating selection of artefacts able to be discovered, while our knowledgeable curators will be able to discuss key objects from the collection.