Introduced from China during the 700s, a day or festival was set aside to bathe in water containing a medicinal plant called "flag" or "shohbu" to protect against plagues. The Japanese pronunciation of this plant name also meant "admire heroes" and the festival eventually became the Boys' Festival or Boys' Day or "Tango no Sekku." In 1948, the Japanese government declared that the Boys' Day festival and the Girls' Day festival would merge into one national holiday called Children's Day ("Kodomo no Hi"), which Japanese people now celebrate in the fifth month on the fifth day, or May 5. This holiday extols the happiness and health of both boys and girls as well as honours mothers.
Japanese families make and hang "koinobori," carp-shaped streamers or kites, which symbolise success, strength, courage and endurance, on a pole suspended outside the home. The large black one (the "magoi") at the top of the pole represents the father of the family. Although traditionally the second carp, a red one (the "higoi") located on the pole under the "magoi," symbolises the first son, in modern Japan it symbolises the mother. Green or blue fish under the "higoi," one for each boy in the family, hang in descending order from oldest son to youngest son.
Japanese boys proudly display "mochi" by arranging famous warrior figurines, hero dolls, helmets, swords, miniature armour boxes and banners (representing those that ancient warriors used on the battle field) on tiered shelves in the home. One popular doll, the Golden Boy Doll or "Kintaro," represents the family's wish for their sons to be strong and brave.
Girls display their collections of dolls, many of which have been handed down from generation to generation.
Japanese mothers make "kashiwamochi," rice cakes with sweet bean paste centres, and serve the cakes on oak leaves. Rice dumplings that are wrapped in bamboo and special Japanese sweets accompany the rice cakes.
Since 1964 when it was built for the Tokyo Olympic Games, the National Kasumigaoka Stadium has held a Kids' Olympics on May 5 in honour of Children's Day. Parents and their children run races and relays for medals.
Japanese boys enjoy pretending to be samurai, the most honoured fighters of Japan during the 1800s, by wearing replicas of traditional helmets and brandishing toy samurai swords.
Japan celebrates Children's Day through the arts such as "kyogen," which is a type of ancient Japanese comic theatre that originated more than 600 years ago. In 1996, the Yokohama Noh Theater presented "kyogen" using children actors dressed in the traditional costumes and acting in the genre's distinctive acting style.
Traditionally, on the fifth day of the fifth month, everyone took baths in water containing "flag," a special plant that the bathers thought protected them from plagues. Modern Japanese families take baths on Children's Day in water with iris roots and leaves to ward off evil and encourage good health.
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