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History of Koinobori

If you have ever been to Japan or simply are familiar with Japanese culture, you will know that the koi are special animals to the Japanese people. These ornamental and domesticated carp are colorful and so are usually kept in fishponds both indoors and outdoors. The koi is also used to symbolize strength, energy, and power. So much is the influence of the koi that they are used to embody one of the biggest festivals in Japan, Children’s Day.

Paper, cloth or any fabric for that matter is used in making a koinobori — a streamer or windsock shaped like a koi. There are normally at least 3 koinobori in a pole that line the streets of Japan during Children’s Day. Colors of the koinobori are also symbolic. Black koinobori represent the father. Red koinobori is representative of the mother while smaller blue, yellow, purple, orange, and other colors are for the children.

Children’s Day: A history of the koinobori

Children’s day marks the end of the Golden Week in Japan, usually on the 5th of May. The Golden week is one of the longest breaks for the working class people in Japan where most, if not all, businesses stay closed for 9- 10 days.

There are a lot of stories pertaining to the origin of the koinobori. Almost all though, would say that it has to do with asking for the blessing of the gods for strength and power. Though there may be several origin stories, there is no definite year as to when this tradition started.

In one story, it has been said that samurai warriors wore full armor with the koinobori streaming on poles during a battle. It is also believed that this practice, in the year 1282, was also done to celebrate victories after a battle.

More sources, however, believe that the koinobori is used to celebrate children, specifically boys up until the year 1948. This celebration was known as the Tango No Sekku. Girls had a separate celebration known as Hinamatsuri or Doll’s Day. Eventually, however, the two events were combined and are now being celebrated and known as Children’s Day.

During the ancient times, the koinobori was placed in front of the family home to celebrate the birth of a newborn baby. It was believed that the gods came along and pole from the heavens to bless and protect the child. To make the poles and homes stand out, the koinobori was made to be as colorful as much as possible.

Traditionally, the koinobori has 5 streamers. On top of the poles are circular spinning wheels, much like wind vanes. Next are the fukinagashi, a wind sock with bright and colorful streamers. This is then followed by the koinobori itself—black, red and various other colored windsocks. This custom is believed to bring growth and success to the newborn baby.

Why koi?

The koi is a celebrated animal because of its supposed courage and strength. In Chinese legends, it is believed that the koi swam upstream of the Yellow River, eventually becoming dragons. Because of this fruitful endeavor, koi are also known to bring success and good luck in any career.

There are many symbolisms related to the koi. But in koinobori, it is always associated with strength and courage—traits that are very much desirable for children.

Koinobori today

Nowadays, koinobori are still used in the traditional manner. However, they are also used as garden ornaments. They can also be used as decorations for children’s rooms. For foreigners, koinobori are also purchased primarily as souvenirs. Either way, koinobori are exceptional in both aesthetics and tradition.

Use these koinobori indoors or outdoors as ornaments or otherwise. Here at Japanese Style, you’ll surely find a koinobori that will surely tickle your fancy.