Legendary koi (carp) fish can be found in ponds across Japan, shimmering in an array of colors as they glide slowly through the waters with determined, hypnotic movements. Each year, from late April to early May, the fish can be found not only in ponds, but as brightly-colored windsocks, hoisted up poles, hung from balconies, and strung across ponds and waterways in web-like arrangements.
Known as konobori (carp streamers), these mark Kodomo no hi (Children’s Day) on May 5. Carp fish, which grow up to 120 meters, 40kg in weight, and live into their thirties, are known to be adaptable to different environments and to swim upstream no matter what the conditions. These characteristics make the auspicious fish a symbol of power and perseverance, resilience against adversity, and navigating obstacles with courage – which is no surprise that they’re a common feature of kimono prints, woodblock prints, and tattoos.
Flying the koinobori for Children’s Day is to pray for the children to grow up healthy and strong, with energy, aspiration, and resilience. A typical arrangement for a home is to feature one fish for each member of the family, the largest, a grey-black fish for the father, then red for the mother, and blue, green, and purple for the children.
Kodomo no Hi has its origins in an ancient seasonal festival, Tango no sekku, and the customs of this festival are also common leading up to and on May 5. Kashiwamochi mochi, mochi stuffed with red bean paste and wrapped in an oak leaf and steamed, was an offering to the harvest gods during this seasonal change, and is still eaten for is auspicious qualities for prosperity and longevity – as the oak tree doesn't lose its leaves until new sprouts emerge; Shobu-yu is a steaming hot bath infused with Japanese iris leaves, bathed in to dispel illness and misfortune.
We hope you enjoyed learning about the majestic carp fish and this important part of Japanese culture!
You can see Chikuhodo's MK-KO Koi Powder Brush, a collaboration with visual artist, Hideki Kimura. Visit our Instagram to enter for your chance to win (ends 5 May, 2021).