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What's Cool

Koinobori Swim Breezily Across the Sky

Part 1

Prayers for Healthy and Strong Children

Children's Day is a national holiday on May 5th in Japan that celebrates the healthy, happy growth of children. Families with young boys fly colorful, carp-shaped streamers called koinobori in front of their houses in the hope that they will grow up healthy and strong.


Koinobori fly in front of a house. The carp-shaped streamers below the five-colored fukinagashi represent the father, mother and two children in the family (© photo courtesy of AFLO).


Koinobori depicted on mid 19th century ukiyo-e woodblock print (© photo courtesy of AFLO).

Samurai families in medieval times marked this holiday by displaying helmets and suits of armor from ancestors in their homes; flags from the battlefield were flown in the gardens. These were meant as a declaration of the family's valor and an appeal that their sons grow up healthy and strong. In the 18th century, wealthy merchants adopted the custom. Battle flags were replaced with carp-shaped streamers, a symbol of an ancient Chinese legend depicting the transformation of a carp that swims up a waterfall into a dragon. Thus, the koinobori tradition was born. As the streamers were painted with ink on Japanese paper, the colors on these early koinobori would bleed in the rain, and they were hung in front of houses only on sunny days.


Koinobori desk ornament (© photo courtesy of AFLO)

Techniques for dyed cloth koinobori were soon developed. Sets made up of black and red carp below a fukinagashi streamer with five different colored tapes, which were believed to ward off evil, came into fashion. The colorful koinobori with carp in blue, green, orange and other colors that are seen today first appeared during the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, and were inspired by the five rings of the Olympic emblem.