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Koinobori Carp Streamers: Celebrating Children's Day in Japan

Koinobori "carp streamers" are windsocks that are flown as a custom to celebrate the growth of children. It is said that the number of koinobori found around Japan have been on the decline, however, we think you'll be seeing these more in the future.

Koinobori Carp Streamers: Celebrating Children's Day in Japan

Koinobori carp streamers can be found all around Japan during spring. If you already know what the koinobori carp streamers represent, when you see one, you might find yourself appreciating the arrival of spring or wondering whether there's a child in the family flying the streamer.
Today we'll be introducing the traditional customs regarding koinobori which have been around since the Edo period.

What Is a Koinobori?

A koinobori is a carp-shaped windsock, usually flown in high places, making them look as if they are swimming in the sky.

You'll find them in the city, in the countryside, tourist attractions and local neighborhoods, basically everywhere in Japan. Larger ones reach up to eight meters in length, and are very impressive when seen up close.

Origin of Koinobori

Wishing for the Healthy Growth of Boys

Koinobori streamers are said to have originated to pray for the healthy growth of boys. Koinobori first appeared in the time of the samurai, when the wish of the parents of a boy was for him to grow up to be a strong man in battle. At present, it has become a custom to put up koinobori if the family has a child, regardless of gender.

Why a Streamer?

The first koinobori were made by the common people of the mid-Edo period, based on the nobori flags that were used in battle during the Sengoku period to distinguish friend and foe.

Why a Carp?

In China, legend has it that when a carp climbs up a rushing waterfall it becomes a dragon. Thus the people of the Edo period used the carp as a lucky charm for children.

More and More Koinobori

Koinobori Carp Streamers: Celebrating Children's Day in Japan

As aforementioned, koinobori are flown with the wish that children will grow healthily. After the end of the war when the population in Japan began to increase, these streamers began to be put up around the country. They were flown above my home as well. It was just the right size for our home in a danchi housing complex. According to my father, he would visit his hometown in May to see the impressive koinobori swimming in the sky.

In recent years, it's said that the sight of flying koinobori has become less and less in local homes, parks, and tourist areas. This may be due to the declining birthrate.

However, you may have noticed a change in the latest three or four years. The windsocks have become popular again. It's a symbol of hope for the next generation.

Some may still say that the number of koinobori have been on the decline. Of course, the declining birthrate is a major issue, but adults can still put up the carps to remember their childhood or even hand over their old streamers to a new generation.

Koinobori Carp Streamers: Celebrating Children's Day in Japan

This is something my mother told me. Danchi-size koinobori consist of a father, mother, and child carp, each one becoming a little smaller in size. When a new family member is born, an even smaller carp is added, but it's difficult to find something smaller than a danchi-sized carp. In that case, many will go to the supermarket to buy a snack that comes with a tiny toy koinobori and add it to the collection. You might see one of these small ones flying in the air next door.

As long as adults don't forget, we can pass on the koinobori custom to the next generation, even if the birthrate is indeed declining.

The situation regarding koinobori and the aging society in Japan is interesting. You can visit a traditional danchi housing complex and find koinobori being flown, even if the family doesn't really have children.

All pictures from PIXTA

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