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The Fifth of May – 端午の節句 (Tango no Sekku)

The fifth of May is a national holiday in Japan!

During the Edo period, people celebrated the healthy growth of boys, when a Shogun had a new born boy. The origin of this tradition can be traced back to the Chinese traditional holiday which was celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month. In the new Gregorian calendar this is now observed on the 5th of May and marks the beginning of summer.

By the late 1880s, the famous artist Toyohara Chikanobu (1838-1912) produced many ukiyo-e prints depicting traditional aspects of Japanese culture, as a response to the dismay felt by the society at the time of the many changes wrought by rapid industrialisation. The ukiyo-e of the Boys’ Festival shown at the top is one of those prints:

The Boys’ Festival is called “Tango no sekku”. In 1948, after the World War Two, Tango no sekku was renamed Kodomo no hi which means Children’s Day. However, people still use both “Kodomo no hi” and “Tango no sekku“.

In China, the carp symbolises success in life. During this occasion, Japanese people flew paper or cloth flags in the form of carp on house roofs to wish the boys a successful life. Black carp represents boys while smaller red carp are used for girls on the 3rd of March in a Girls’ Festival (Hinamatsuri).

People also wore or displayed Japanese armour, helmets or Musha ningyo (Warrior dolls) in the house, wishing for the boys to grow to be strong and wise. Iris and Atermisia leaves are hung in doorways to ward off evil spirits.




こちらは、明治時代に活躍した楊州周延作、 江戸砂子年中行事という、江戸時代の人々の生活風俗を描いたシリーズの中の一作、1885発行のオリジナルの浮世絵です。端午の節句は、中国の厄払いの風習からアイディアを得て、日本では武家の間で江戸時代に始まった行事です。また鯉のぼりも中国において、滝をも登る鯉が立身出世の象徴だったことに起源があるといわれています。

子供の強くたくましく成長、無事の願いを込めて飾る、鎧や兜や 武者人形など、こどもの日を象徴するアイテム、イベントが画面いっぱいに散りばめられた一作となっています。