In Japan, May 5th is Children's Day, a national holiday celebrated to wish children good health. Originally, this custom was introduced from China and spread during the Nara period (710-784). It was during the Edo period (1603 - 1868) that people started to celebrate the growth of boys by decorating carp streamers. Until 1948, it was known as Boy’s Day but was then changed to Children’s Day to be more inclusive.
Carp streamers are said to be based on an old Chinese legend that "when a carp climbs the waterfall at the Dragon Gate, it becomes a dragon in the sky”. Also, carp is a strong fish with strong vitality that can live not only in clear streams but also in ponds and swamps. In this way, carp streamers came to be displayed in the hope that, like the carp, children would grow up to be splendid and rise to success regardless of the environment.
Traditional Japanese Sweets for Children's Day
The traditional sweets eaten on Children's Day are Kashiwa-mochi and Chimaki.Kashiwa-mochi is a sticky rice cake (mochi) stuffed with red bean (azuki). Then it is wrapped in an oak leaf. Since oak trees don’t shed old leaves until they grow new leaves, the tree symbolizes respect for and a bondage to one’s ancestors. While kashiwa-mochi developed in eastern Japan, the local people in western Japan made Chimaki, sweet rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves, because the west area had few oak trees.
It is interesting to know that each Japanese traditional food is filled with history, regional colors, and customs, isn’t it?