carp streamers

Photo:Guilhem Vellut

Children's Day Koinobori

Kodomo no Hi

Kodomo means "children" and Hi means "day" in Japanese. So, it means “Children’s Day” in Japanese. It is a Japanese national holiday, which takes place annually on May 5, and combined with other holidays this makes what is called "Golden Week" in Japan. The Japanese government makes this day because they want to respect children’s personalities and celebrate their happiness. So, let’s find out more about Children’s Day! The most interesting thing about Kodomo no Hi is the koinobori.

koinobori in shotengai
Photo: philHendley on Flickr


Have you ever heard this word? I bet most people know the word koi. It means "carp" in Japanese. What does nobori mean then? Nobori means "to rise up" in Japanese. So it means “carp streamer” in Japanese. These are carp-shaped wind socks that are traditionally flown during this day.

Photo: July Dominique on Flickr


Carp symbolizes courage and strength because they have the ability to swim up a waterfall. Originally, samurai warriors used the banners on the battlefield. At first they painted those banners in various colors and shapes, and some of them were painted with pictures of carp. This led to the carp streamers that have been in use since the beginning of modern Japan. Because the carp’s courage and strength is a trait typically desired in boys, families in Japan traditionally have flown koinobori from their homes to symbolize honor to their sons.

Song for Koinobori

This is the song traditionally sung about koinobori. Miyako Kondo wrote the lyrics, and it was published in Ehon Shouka Haru no Maki (Picture Songbook, Spring) in 1932.

The Japanese version of the song:

Yane yori takai koinobori
Okii magoi wa otosan
Chiisai higoi wa kodomo tachi
Omoshiroso ni oyoideru

The English translation of this song:

Higher than the rood tops are the Koinobori
The large carp is the father
The smaller carp are the children
They seem to be having fun swimming.

Photo: Nelo Hotsuma on Flickr

The Story Behind It

It is same as the song described. The biggest koinobori (black) represents the father, and the next biggest one (red) represents the mother. They range down in size to the smallest carp for the youngest son. Surprisingly, according to the Japanese American National Museum, the next biggest one (red color) belongs to the first-born son, but as I said before, in Japan, they prefer to see it as the mother. If you have seen koinobori in person in Japan, you know there is a colorful streamer at the top. This symbolizes the family crest. Learning this about koinobori made me think that Japanese people really respect their whole family, and it is such a good intention. It would be such fun to fly koinobori with one's family in the garden of one's house.

In short, koinobori symbolize the warmness of family relationships.

Photo: Aikawa Ke on Flickr

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