Japanese Calendar Holidays & Festivals

Children's Day  (kodomo no hi)  National Holiday


T.T., May 91 -- The Boys are Back in Town -- Children's Day (kodomonohi) -- Boys Festival (tango no sekku) --

Carp: 1) To complain or find fault. 2) A species of large freshwater fish. 3) Part of a fruit.

Iris: 1) The colored portion of the eye. 2) A camera lens diaphragm. 3) Perennial herbaceous plant with large flowers. 4) Rainbow appearance or iridescent color.

Oak: 1) Large hardwood tree. 2) Part of Canada's flag, eh. 3) How an "oaf" sometimes spells: "Okay".

Hello boys and girls and welcome to a beautiful day in our neighborhood! Is everybody happy today? Good! So, this month's festival hints are numbers: 2, then 3, then 1. Yes, that's right. Now can you guess the festival we're going to talk about? Now, don't carp if you can't think of an answer. And if you're a big oaf try to just sit quietly....

Yes, it's Children's Day on May 5th, also known as the Boys' Festival (Tango no Sekku). (This holiday is the counterpart to the Doll Festival, March 3rd, for girls).

To celebrate the Boys' Festival large paper carps are hung out to blow in the spring breezes and iris stalks are displayed under eaves, with their roots sometimes finely chopped up to be mixed into wine. Also, special rice cakes are wrapped in oak leaves, to be eaten as part of the festival. You should be able to see the large paper fish almost everywhere as families all over Japan wish the best blessings for the future health and strength of their sons. The hardy carp which can survive turbulent waters and even leap up waterfalls during spawning is seen as a good example for their sons. Inside homes traditional warrior dolls and other symbols of strength are commonly displayed.

As Children's Day, usually at the end of Golden Week, May 5th, is a popular family holiday for all. And at Treasure Hall at the Meiji Shrine (next to Harajuku Station on the SW side of the Yamanote Line) there will be special activities just for youngsters. For more information on this contact the Tourist Info Center, at 03-3502-1461. (P.A.)

T.T., May.92

This year's Golden Week, from Wednesday April 29 to Tuesday May 5, concludes with Children's Day.

Children's Day (Kodomo no Hi), May 5 of each year, is a national holiday set aside just for those wonderful, adorable little tykes we call children. If you have Japanese friends with school-age children you may be interested in participating in some of the special events set aside for them. This holiday, by the way, is also known as the "Boys' Festival" (Tango no Sekku) and, as such, is the counterpart to the March 3 "Doll Festival", for girls.

In the weeks leading up to this holiday you may see large colorful paper carps hanging out in the wind. Well ... maybe the foreign sound and connotations related to "carp" aren't as appealing as that understood to the native Japanese sense. Namely, a hardy, colorful fish which is both handsome and strong enough to overcome turbulent waters and even leap up waterfalls. A son should emulate the carp's strength, endurance, and ability to overcome life's obstacles.

Along with the large carp hanging outdoors many homes will display traditional warrior dolls and other symbols of strength indoors.

Special foods for Children's Day include rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves. The oak leaves are only decorative and they taste terrible!, so just eat the rice cakes inside. Traditionally, chopped iris roots are mixed into wine, which you might want to try.

Children's Day is a popular family holiday which has its roots deep in Japanese culture. Along with family celebrations there will be special activities in the early afternoon just for youngsters at the Meiji Shrine's Treasure Hall (JR Yamanote Line, Harajuku Station.) (by Paul Abramson)

T.T., May.91 -- Three Days of the Sanja

The Sanja Festival is one of the biggest annual festivals in Tokyo. 100 portable shrines, accompanied by 1,000 costumed participants, will draw over 2 million people to Asakusa on May 17th, 18th and 19th! This huge pageant signals the beginning of summer and brings out the best in Tokyoites.

Long ago the Asakusa Kannon was caught and brought up in the nets of two brothers who were fishing in the Sumida river. In 1649 the original Asakusa Shrine was constructed on the current site. And the nearby Sensoji Temple, the oldest in Tokyo (first built in A.D. 645) is now home to the sacred Kannon image deity, which has always welcomed the average worshiper without bias. In the early years one portable shrine was hoisted and carried down to and across the Sumida river, just to the East. But today, this gala event hosts a hundred-fold such ornately decorated portable shrines (mikoshi), each traditionally believed to house a sacred deity or spirit. The participants energetically parade all of the shrines through the streets of Asakusa with loud shouts and the accompaniment of cheering crowds. They no longer cross the Sumida river, but instead spread their contagious excitement throughout the Asakusa district, and in fact "infect" the whole city with celebration!

On Friday, May 17th, 1,000 participants wearing traditional happi coasts and twisted headbands will parade down Nakamise-dori to Asakusa (from around 1:00 till 2:30pm).

The following day, Saturday, will witness the convergence of about 100 portable shrines on Asakusa Kannon by around noon and beginning to return to their respective neighborhoods after 1:00pm.

And on Sunday, May 19th, the biggest of the three days, three huge special portable shrines will be carried down three selected routes, borne by residents and willing visitors in each neighborhood. This celebration will take all day and will without a doubt be a true windfall to the street-side vendor business.

Asakusa Station is east of Ueno Station, on both the Ginza and Toei Asakusa subway lines. The Asakusa Shrine, Senjoji temple, and Five Storied Pagoda, are just to the northwest of the station. (If you want detailed route information for each day visit the Tourist Info Center at Asakusa before the festival days. It is one block directly west of Asakusa station, across the street from Kaminarimon Gate). Get there early, take your sunscreen, enjoy! (Paul Abramson)

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