Many of you think of May 5 as Cinco de Mayo. But May 5 is a big day in Japan as well, for it is an annual event, now called Children’s Day, or originally Kodomo no Hi. It is set aside to respect children’s personalities and to celebrate their happiness. It became a national holiday in Japan in 1948. It was always a special day when my son was a little guy. And of course, like most Asian families, the boys are favored with gifts, toys, sporting goods, and money.
Originally, May 5 was called Tango no Sekku, or Boys’ Day, and known as a Feast of Banners. Girls’ Day was celebrated on March 3 (3/3). We celebrated this day by carp shaped koinobori flags. Carp because legend has it that a carp swims upstream to become a dragon, and when the wind blows, it looks like the carp flag is swimming. One carp for each boy, with a Kintaro doll riding the large carp, and a traditional Japanese helmet, kabuto, are symbols of a strong and healthy boy.
Koinobori (The large carp at the top represents the father, the second carp represents the eldest son, and additional carp are added to represent each subsequent son with color and position denoting their relative age.)
So, every year I flew the carp flags and another colorful wind sock from a makeshift PVC flagpole. I attached it to a decorative fence in the front yard. From age 4 months to about age 5 or 6, I placed my son on the fence for an annual photo. When he was older, he stood in front on the fence with the flags flying high above. He always got a special gift, and a meal of his favorite foods. He always got a generous monetary gift from his grandfather.
It is still a special day to me, even though he is now 28, stands over 6 feet tall, and hits the golf ball over 300 yards. I will always remember flying the flags and explaining to him the significance of Boys’ Day. I wish I had some digital photos to show you. And of course, he would ask where his gift was hidden. In fact, even into adulthood, he would sometimes ask, “Hey Dad, what about Boys’ Day?”
Truth be known, I miss Boys’ Day, flying the carp, buying the gifts and food. Maybe someday, we will have a grandson, both to carry on the family name and to celebrate May 5 the way I remember. Life goes on (I hope).