thesquiggles: ((p3) summer.)
squigs ([personal profile] thesquiggles) wrote2016-05-02 04:30 pm
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Children's Day 【子供の日】

DISCLAIMER: Please note that I'm no expert and I can't swear that everything here is accurate or complete. This is quickly done research, though I'm attempting to crosscheck using different sources! Please take this with a few handfuls of salt.

Children's Day -- Kodomo no Hi (子供の日), formerly known as Tango no Sekku (端午の節句) -- is one of Japan's national holidays. According to Article 2 of Japan's Act on National Holidays, Children's Day is a holiday on which people must "value a child's personality, measure the child's happiness, and thank the mother." It was originally a day to celebrate and pray for the health and growth of young boys, but today it is celebrated for all children regardless of gender.

Tango no Sekku
While Kodomo no Hi is the formal and current name of the holiday, what May 5 used to be was Tango no Sekku, which was a evil-exorcising tradition adopted from neighboring China, where May was a month when lots of people got sick. The iris flower and leaves were used as wards for this day, hung over doorways as protective wards or consumed (ayame-zake, or iris wine) to ward evil out of the body.

Iris (菖蒲) is known as ayame in Japanese, but it can also be read shoubu. Because it had the same reading as the word 尚武 (a warrior bushi who values military affairs), and because the leaves of an iris are pointed like swords, people started to put up irises for decoration when a son was born in order to celebrate his birth and to pray for his health. Yay, puns!

Kodomo no Hi
Kodomo no Hi became an official holiday in 1948. Most people refer to the holiday but this name, but there are still some older folks who'll prefer to call it Tango no Sekku.

Why Koi-nobori???
Koi-nobori are cute! They're pretty! They have fun songs about them! But why carps?

This apparently began in the Edo Period, when samurai families would put up a nobori outside of their homes to celebrate the birth of a son. It apparently began with the Tokugawa shogun family, then spread to other samurai clans. The trend then also spread to the commoners -- especially people who had the wealth but no ranking who didn't want to feel inferior to the samurai. These people took inspiration from a Chinese story about succeeding in life: the story of the carp who swam up a waterfall and became a dragon (think: Magikarp) and depicted a koi fish on their nobori flags.

Bonus: Nobori in Japanese, when written noboru, also means "to move up." The story of the carp and the waterfall is known as "koi no taki-nobori." I guess you can never escape puns with Japan.

The koinobori is raised in prayer for the child to grow up healthy and successful.

Armor and May Dolls, aka Gogatsu Ningyou
Sometimes you also put up dolls and armor for Tango no Sekku. This is more for the archaic tradition than the official holiday, but people do it anyway!

There were lots of practical reasons throughout history (like maintenance for armor), but the general idea is that the armor (yoroi, kabuto) were set out for protection from disasters. This practice became a permanent one during the Edo Period, along with the practice of setting out intricately crafted dolls as vessels for the gods when they come down (to give the son their sons blessing I guess?). Of these dolls, the most popular types are the musha-ningyou(武者人形) warrior dolls, put out in hopes that the son will grow up to be brave and noble like the warriors they're usually modeled off of. Some of these warriors are Kintaro, Ushiwakamaru (the childhood name of Minamoto no Yoshitune), Benkei, and Shouki (the Japanese name for Zhong Kui, from Chinese mythology).

That image up there is anpanman, the red bean cake superhero.

Food Eaten on Children's Day
During Tango no Sekku, the evil-banishing and purifying effects of the iris were most important, for Kodomo no Hi, a couple popular foods are two types of mochi: the kashiwa-mochi and chimaki.

The main difference between these two is that people from kantou (east) primarily ate kashiwa-mochi, and folks from kansai (west) ate chimaki on this holiday.


Kashiwa-mochi is rice cakes wrapped in oak tree leaves, which were used as plates for offerings to the gods since ancient times. Oaks are considered to be sacred trees, and also do not lose their leaves until after the winter when new leaves have sprouted. From that, the meaning drawn from the kashiwa oak leaves was that the parent will not die until a child is born, ensuring that the lineage will continue/the family will not die out. This was especially valuable for samurai families who valued the continuation of their bloodline and family name.

A tidbit about the leaves: there was a rule to how the leaves were wrapped around the rice cakes. If the leaf was wrapped around the cake with the underside facing out, therefore wrapping the mochi with the omote (front) side, then the an paste inside is made with miso (soy paste). If the underside is facing in, then the paste inside was made from ogura (red bean paste).


Chimaki came to Japan from China during the Heian Era. Like with most things, it was said to have evil-banishing effects. Evil-banishing was very, very important, okay. In the Chinese legends the leaves used to wrap these rice cakes were from lotus trees (I think, I couldn't find a proper translation), but some theories say they used bamboo leaves or cogon grass -- these leaf-wrapped rice cakes were then tied with five colored strings with evil-banishing powers, and those five colors are considered to be the origin of the koi-nobori's colors (tying everything together, yay).

In Japan, the leaves used to wrap the rice cakes were cogon grass, known as chigaya, and they called the food chigaya-maki. The name eventually became shortened to chimaki.

Other Foods
Other than those two main rice cakes, Japan is full of regional traditions! It's endless. But another food that's mainly eaten in the Kyushu region is the Akumaki, which is mochi rice soaked (cooked?) in lye water and wrapped in bamboo leaves.

If it's a child's first Children's Day you might also celebrate by cooking sekihan (red bean rice) or carp, but it's also common for the food to be arranged so that the kids can eat it. Chirashi-zushi and Inari-zushi are also popular dishes (they're not just for this occasion though; they're pretty good for eating year-round) (my mom loves inari).

chirashi-zushi (left). inari-zushi (right).

Again this was written in... a couple hours? after reading only a couple handfuls of articles online. I don't think any of these are blatant lies or wrong, but if you really want to be sure, I recommend doing some deeper digging. This post was mainly written for RP fun and shenanigans. Thank you for reading!