子供の日 kodomo no hi—children’s day

The 5th of May is Children’s Day in Japan. Originally it was just Boys’ Day, with Girls’ Day falling on the 3rd of March. For the purpose of having a national holiday, the two are combined into Children’s Day, although Boys’ Day traditions still predominate.

Boys’ Day and Children’s Day traditions include:

  • Flying koinobori carp banners, with one banner for each member of the family. The black carp, which is the biggest, represents the father 父, and the second biggest, red carp represents the mother 母. Then there is one smaller carp for each child;

  • and eating special Japanese treats or mochi.

We bought a packet of Children’s Day mochi at the supermarket for Y318.

The text on the label says 端午の節句 Tango no Sekku which is the old name for Boy’s Day.

Inside the packet I found 2 long chimaki wrapped in bamboo leaves, and three round kashiwa-mochi wrapped in oak leaves. I tried the chimaki first.

I wasn’t mad about the chimaki. It was made of a kind of rice-paste with a gluey texture, and very sweet. But it was nice enough with a glass of cold tea to wash it down.

I much preferred the kashiwa-mochi.

The kashiwa-mochi was filled with sweet azuki (red bean) paste. Very tasty indeed. I had two.

Two other Boy’s Day traditions are to wear a samurai helmet (kabuto), and to have a bath with iris flowers floating in the bath (although not while wearing a samurai helmet).  I didn’t do either of these things.

A note on the word of the day:

In 子供の日 we see the word 子供 kodomo meaning child and the kanji 日 meaning day, or sun. This character is also found in the name of the country, 日本 nihon or nippon, which literally means “sun source” but is poetically rendered as “land of the rising sun”.

It is interesting that the names of the days of the week in Japan line up with those of the planets in the same way as they do in European languages. For example 火曜日 ka-youbi—Tuesday shares its name with 火星 ka-seiMars, 水曜日sui-youbi—Wednesday with 水星 sui-sei—Mercury, and so on for each of the seven days, just as in French or Italian martedì, mercoledì… correspond to the same planets. This coincidence long predates direct contact between Japan and western European cultures, but has a common origin in the astrology of ancient Egypt, transmitted on the one hand through Rome to modern Europe, and on the other hand through Persia to India, China and Japan.

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