The Language Room, Translation & Interpretation, Edinburgh, Scotland, London, UK

All schools closed! No more homework and no more studying for children in Japan on May 5th, for it is Children’s Day!

Children’s Day (or 子どもの日 “kodomo no hi”) is celebrated once a year in Japan, always on May 5th. On this bank holiday, everyone puts their day-to-day activities on hold and spends the day celebrating the health and happiness of children. Little boys and girls also seize the occasion to show their gratitude for their parents’ love and care.

On this joyful and colourful day, beautifully decorated carp-shaped streamers can be seen flapping around in the sky, hanging from strings, bamboo sticks, or from the roofs. Children’s theatre groups also perform comic plays in traditional costumes and many other events are held for them throughout the country. But where do these celebrations come from?

These celebrations derive from timeless traditions and tales. According to a legend, once upon a time, there was a carp who struggled with all its strength to swim upstream, so hard and bravely that at the end of the journey, it became a dragon! The carp has ever since become a symbol of the children’s journey through childhood and of their parents’ wish to see them become proud adults.

But Children’s Day as it is celebrated today has not always been like this. Over the years, many cultural and historical aspects and beliefs have come together, evolved, or been lost.

Back in the first century, the celebration was known as the “month of the horse”. People would decorate their doors and roofs with iris and Artemisia to keep evil at bay, while young men would participate in archery and horse riding contests. Iris is still an important part of the celebration today, but it doesn’t have much to do with protecting your house from evil anymore. It is thought to bring luck and is used for decorating and baking the typical cakes and treats.

Later on, in the 12th century, the celebration became known as “Boys’ Day”. Young boys would then be given pieces of armour, in the hope that someday, they would become valiant samurais. Today, dolls in armour are put on display inside houses on Children’s Day!

And finally, in 1948, the celebration was officially named “Children’s Day” and the government decided to turn it into a bank holiday. The celebration slowly lost its military aspect and started to celebrate little girls as well. Although there is still a lot to be done about that.

To look at the various types, ways and topics for celebrations all around the world is quite interesting, isn’t it? One appealing aspect of Children’s Day is that, although the traditions and values attached to it are typically Japanese and deeply rooted in the Asian culture, there is a strong sense of universality about them as well, as most countries have one or various occasions each year to celebrate children, parents, and love. And it is a nice thing to think that all countries agree on that!

Happy Children’s Day to all the little boys and girls in Japan and all over the world!