text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
If girls have their special holiday, Hina Matsuri boys couldn’t lag behind. From mid-April, in verandas, rooftops and gardens of homes where little boys live, as well as above rivers (put by the surrounding municipalities) the colored windsocks called “koinobori” (鯉幟) i.e. “carp streamers” start to appear, depicting carps in bright colors –the topmost and biggest one is black and it is followed by red, green or blue. On the top of the pole holding them there is a golden ball followed by an also golden, arrow-spoked weather vane and immediately after that, right above the carps there is one more streamer made of multicolored ribbons and symbolizing a dragon.
The koinobori will not come down before May 5th, the “Children’s Day” or “Kodomo no Hi” (こどもの日) one of Japan’s national holidays and part of the consecutive holidays making the “Golden Week”. In a rather early attempt at political correctness, although the particular day was devoted to boys (and to the beginning of the rainy season) since the period of the Emperor Taisho (1912-1926) the name “children’s day” came into use which, at least officially means that there is a “girls’ day” but not a “boys’ day”. Of course this imbalance has being rectified in the people’s conscience since everything in the semiology of May 5th points to boys.
The carp is an important part of this semiology: it brings to the minds of the Japanese, Kintaro, the naked chubby boy that was too strong to play with the other children his age and had to play with the animals instead; one of the stories, recounts how Kintaro dived into the waters riding a carp, the fish that swims against the current and when it manages to get to the top it becomes a dragon. One doesn’t need to be Japanese to understand the symbolism and how it relates to the wish for healthy and strong children and the hope for success to their future endeavors. Even if the urban way of life has shrunk the koinobori so they can fit into a balcony, they are always there every May, swimming in the wind, adding even more color to the Japanese’s days and reminding how important it is to be a child –regardless of your age.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.
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