Learning and Development

Children’s Day – Celebrate like the Japanese in Early Years

  • Children’s Day – Celebrate like the Japanese in Early Years

There’s plenty to excite and educate your children about Japanese Children’s Day, says Linda Mort…

What is Children’s Day?

Kodomo no hi (or Children’s Day) is one of the most popular national holidays in Japan. It was originally known as Boys’ Day, Tango no Sekka (Festival of Banners). Girls had their own day, Hinamatsuri (Doll Festival).

To lift the spirits of the Japanese people after the Second World War, in 1948 the Japanese government re-named Boys’ Day in honour of all children, to celebrate their happiness, wellbeing and progress.

The festival is also an occasion for kids to thank and respect parents, relatives and teachers.

When is Children’s Day?

Japanese Children’s Day takes place on 5th May.

What happens on Children’s Day in Japan?

Flying fish

Japanese people celebrate the day by flying koinobori flags and kites, especially outside the homes of boys. The flags are in the shape of carp fish, which look as if they are swimming when they flutter in the breeze.

Because carp can swim upstream, they symbolise courage and determination. Ask young people to talk about whether they have been brave or have persevered to learn how to do something (e.g. a new physical skill such as hopping).

Koinobori flags are cylindrical in shape and can be huge in size. People make them from cotton and paint them vibrant colours. Search for pictures of the flags online to show the children and help them to make their own very simple kite versions, as well as pictures of real carp.

Ask children to look carefully at the shape of the carp’s bodies and tail fins, and the pattern of the scales on their skin. Kids can draw their own carp shapes on coloured tissue paper and decorate them using coloured felt-tipped pens.

They can then cut them out and attach each one to a piece of wool 20cm long, attached at the mouth end with sticky tape. Encourage children to run outside, holding up their ‘kites’ to flutter behind them.

Playing with paper

The iris is another symbol of the festival because its leaves are reminiscent of the blades of the swords used by traditional Samurai warriors, who are symbols of courage.

On Children’s Day, people in Japan display warrior dolls and kabuto military helmets. They also make and wear origami versions of the helmets.

Explain that in Japan, children and grown-ups enjoy both origami (paper folding) and kirigami (paper folding with cutting).

Children may like to make their own kirigami-based fish. They can draw a carp shape on a folded piece of paper so that the top of the fish is ‘hinged’ when they cut it out.

After decorating each side, they can put folded toilet tissue inside, seal the edges with staples and attach a straw to the bottom with sticky tape. They can then hold the fish and make it ‘swim’.

Grow for it

Traditionally, on Children’s Day, you measure children. Your children can each start a booklet called ‘How I grow’.

Try measuring one another, with each child recording their own height in their booklet. They can carry on doing this once a term until they leave your setting.

Next to each entry they can write, or have scribed, the names of healthy foods they have been enjoying.

Let the games begin

Children’s Day is also a great opportunity to kick off an exploration of the Olympics. In Japan, this special day celebrates healthy eating and physical fitness, and there are picnics and children’s plays to enjoy.

Thousands of children compete in the ‘Kids’ Olympics’ held at the national Kasumigaoka stadium in Tokyo. On 5th May, why not hold a ‘mini-Olympics’ event, focusing on collaborative team skills such as a relay circuit using a red crepe paper ‘torch’?

End the games with a picnic of favourite healthy foods. A popular snack in Japan is kashiwa mochi, rice dumplings filled with bean paste and wrapped in pickled oak leaves, but you could always settle for rice cakes!