It is almost May 5th, which means it’s Children’s Day! I hope that this article can give you a brief idea of the history of children’s day, and give you ideas to enjoy this public holiday even at home.
Children’s day is a public holiday on May 5th. It was announced as an official public holiday in 1948, as a day to honor children and their happiness. Traditionally, it was a “端午の節句” (tango no sekku), which marked the seasonal change to the summer and rainy season. It was also a holiday to celebrate and express hope for the healthy growth of every boy in the family. Even today, with the official holiday being called “children’s day”, the strong influence of this boy’s festival remains, with many displays of samurai helmets (kabuto) and dolls called May dolls (gogatsu ningyo).
↑Samurai helmet decoration
↑ May doll decoration
Carp streamers (鯉のぼり koinobori) are also symbolic of Children’s Day, with carp representing courage and strength, derived from their ability to swim up waterfalls. Since these traits are traditionally desirable in boys, families have often flown koinobori to honor their sons and express hope for the growth of boys.
In addition to the many decorations that color Children’s Day, there are things that you can do in your own home to enjoy the festive feeling. One way to do this is by enjoying traditional foods, such as kashiwa mochi and chimaki.
Kashiwa Mochi is a rice cake that is filled with sweet red bean paste, wrapped in kashiwa (picked oak leaf). Some regions of Japan have their own version of Kashiwa Mochi, filling the rice cake with sweet white miso paste rather than sweet red bean paste. This delicacy is sold in many supermarkets during this time, so they can be picked up alongside your regular groceries. The only thing you might have to watch out for is buying rice cakes that may be wrapped in fresh oak leaves, which are bitter and inedible, and therefore are better off removing the leaves prior to eating them.
Chimaki is a glutinous rice dumpling wrapped in a bamboo, banana, or reed leaf that is then steamed. They originated from “zongzi”, a Chinese sticky rice dumpling. The fillings in chimaki vary, as there are both savory and sweet chimaki. Savory ones might include glutinous rice with meat (often pork and chicken) and vegetables (such as carrots, chestnuts, bamboo shoots) while sweet ones may contain glutinous rice with sweet red bean gelatin (yokan) and are enjoyed as snacks/desserts. Around this time, sweet chimakis can be seen in many supermarkets, so please enjoy Children’s Day with some easily accessible traditional Japanese food!
↑ Chimakis in the bottom left corner, kashiwa mochis on the right.