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Celebrate Children’s Day in Japan!


↑ The Koi-nobori, or carp streamers, surrounding the Tokyo Tower are a sight to behold! Learn More About the Event Foods and How To Celebrate! Hello from Japan Culinary Institute, and welcome to JCI's blog for those looking for an opportunity to learn about Japanese cuisine and culture in Japan! Every year, May 5 is a national holiday in Japan called Children's Day (Boys' Day). It is a day to pray for and celebrate the healthy growth of boys by displaying Koi-nobori(carp streamers) outdoors and decorating Kabuto (Samurai helmets) at home throughout the country. In this issue, we would like to introduce the traditional Wagashi sweets we enjoy eating on Childres’s Day, and how we celebrate and spend the day. Of course, you can learn how to make these wagashi sweets and unique party dishes for kids at JCI! Let's learn together about Japanese culture and foods with us! Table of Contents 1. What are Children's Day and its origin? 2. What do the Japanese do on Children's day? 3. Children's Day sweets and party foods! 4. Summary


1. What is Children's Day and its origin?

↑May 5th is Children's day in Japan!


May 5 in Japan is Children's (Boy's) Day, a national holiday established in 1948. What is the underlying meaning and origin of Children's Day for the Japanese people?

↑Children's Day is celebrated with families. Children are wearing paper Kabuto helmets made by origami technique. The boys are holding miniature Koi-nobori.


Children's Day is defined as a day to "respect children's dignity, promote their happiness, and give thanks to their mothers." In Japan, May 5th has a strong image of being a celebration for boys due to its historical background, but Children's Day is intended for "all children" regardless of gender today.


On this Day, some facilities such as zoos, aquariums, and parks are free of charge throughout Japan, and various Children's Day events are held throughout the country. Children's Day is celebrated on May 5 only in Japan and South Korea; in Turkey, it is celebrated on April 23, in China on June 1, and in Brazil on October 12.


Although this day is observed as Children's Day, May 5 was initially celebrated as Tango-no-Sekku, an event to drive away evil spirits introduced from China, pray for the healthy growth and happiness of boys, and drive away evil spirits. During the Edo period (1603-1867), when the Samurai were in power, it became an established event for boys to celebrate.


↑Koi-nobori also appeared in Ukiyoe prints of the Edo period. Tango-no-sekku was popular among the general public.


2. What do the Japanese do on Boy’s day?

↑Families with boys display Kabuto or May(Samurai children) dolls.


Although Children's Day is a holiday for all children, the custom of Tango-no Sekku, a festival to wish for the growth of boys, is still strongly reflected in Japan. Let's check out some of the typical customs of Children's Day.


On Children's Day, raising a Koi-nobori (carp streamer) in the family's yard is customary. There are three main types of carp streamers: the largest black carp is called "Maigoi(father carp)," the second-largest red carp is called "Higoi(mother)," and the small carp are called "Kogoi(children). The topmost is decorated with a spinning arrow wheel and a blowing streamer(see the photo above).


"Koi(Carp)" is a fish that swims vigorously even in solid and fast-flowing rivers and climbs up waterfalls. It is meant to ask children to grow up healthy and big like such a strong carp. The five-colored streamers are meant to wish for children's safe growth and drive away bad things.


Some families also display "Kabuto" helmets(Photo above) and "May dolls(Samurai children figure, photo below) " on Children's Day. The custom of displaying helmets and armor originated in the samurai society of the Edo period. Today, they are meant to protect children from accidents and illness.





There is another unique custom. On May 5, people take a "Shobu-yu," a hot bath with leaves of the Shobu (see photo above) plant. Shobu is a plant of the taro family that grows near water. It has been valued as a "plant to ward off evil spirits" because of its sharp sword-like shape and intense aroma. People believed that soaking in hot water with Shobu leaves would keep misfortune and bad luck away. It is said that Shobu-yu became popular among the general public around the Edo period when the public bath culture flourished.



3. Children's Day sweets and party foods!


↑Kashiwa-mochi is a lucky food for prosperous offspring!


On Children's Day, we enjoy eating "Kashiwa-mochi," a rice cake filled with sweet red bean paste wrapped in an oak leaf, and "Chimaki," steamed glutinous mochi rice wrapped in a bamboo leaf. You can learn these traditional Japanese sweets in JCI's Wagashi course!



↑Chimaki was introduced from China along with Tango-no-sekku.


Chimaki is made by wrapping glutinous mochi rice in a "chigaya" leaf and steaming it. Nowadays, the mainstay of Chimakis is wagashi covered with Uiro(rice flour cake) or Kuzu (arrowroot starch jelly) instead of mochi rice. Kashiwa Mochi, born in Edo (present-day Tokyo), spread during the Edo(samurai) period. However, Chimaki is still prevalent in the Kansai region, where the traditions of the imperial court are still emphasized.

Kashiwa-mochi is a Japanese confectionery made by wrapping a rice cake with sweet red bean paste in an "oak leaf. Since oak leaves do not shed their old leaves until new shoots grow, people have been eating Kashiwa-mochi on Tango-no Sekku since the Edo period (1603-1868), hoping that the family lineage would continue and that descendants would prosper. Fillings include azuki bean paste, white bean paste, and paste with miso. In the eastern part of Japan, including Tokyo, Kashiwa-mochi is chosen over Chimaki.

Instead of glutinous mochi rice, we use "Joshinko" flour, processed from Uruchi(regular) rice for Kashiwa-mochi. Ones made by kneading mugwort into the mochi, which is believed to ward off evil spirits, are also recommended.



↑Beko-mochi, with its colorful and festive floral designs, is a local delicacy of the cold northern regions of Japan. (https://www.maff.go.jp)

In Hokkaido and Aomori Prefecture, located in the northern part of the Japanese archipelago, people eat "Beko (cow)-mochi" (see photo above) instead of Kashiwa-mochi on Boy's day. The original "Beko-mochi" was made by steaming Uruchi(regular) rice flour and glutinous(mochi) rice flour with water and sugar.


The origin of the name is said to come from the fact that it was initially made from a combination of brown sugar and white dough, and the pattern resembled the speckled pattern of a cow. Recently, the number of colors has increased, and the designs have evolved into more complex ones, such as those of animals and cartoon characters!


The dough, made by kneading glutinous mochi and Uruchi(regular) rice flour with sugar, is divided into small portions and colored, then shaped into bars or boards, combined, formed into cylinders, and steamed. They are usually sliced and steamed again when eaten, but you can bake them.



↑Tekone-zushi(sushi) topped with Katsuo sashimi. If you get the Hatsu-gatuso, you must make this dish!


In addition to sweets, many families may prepare a special menu for May 5th to celebrate the healthy growth of their children. Here are some lucky ingredients and cooking ideas for Boy's Day.

Bonito(Katsuo) is a good choice for this occasion as it is associated with "a man who wins=katsu(win) and o(man)." The first bonito(Hatsu-gatsuo) is just in season and can be enjoyed as sashimi or as an ingredient in Chirashi-zushi (sushi) and a seared steak.



↑These sandwiches are cute with decorations such as koi-nobori and bear. Make it in a size that can be picked up and eaten, and it's kid-friendly!

If your child is still young and doesn't want to eat sashimi, how about cute deco sandwiches or deco meals with a twist on your child's favorite items such as fried shrimp and korokke (croquettes)?


↑The idea of using fried shrimp as Koi-nobori and korokkes as bears are excellent!



↑A bento box for Boy's day with a row of Koi-nobori rice balls. Kids are sure to be delighted when they open the lid of the box!