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Children’s Day and flying fish (koinobori)

April 23, 2010

Dear Udder: flying carp

Lately I’ve seen flying fish on flagpoles – what does it mean?

Flummoxed in Yokohama

Dear Flummoxed:

These flying fish, called Koi Nobori (Climbing Carp) are in celebration of Children’s Day, on May 5th.

The black fish at the top represents the father, the red fish the mother, and the blue fish, the son. With each additional son, another blue or green fish is added to the banner.  Yes, only sons get to fly or climb upstream to become a dragon (a popular Chinese legend and the supposed origins of the flying fish) because the day was originally called Boys’ Day, and acted as a counterpart to The Doll’s Festival, Hinamatsuri, or Girls ‘ Day.  Although it was officially changed to Children’s Day in Japan in 1948, most Japanese still think of it as a celebration of sons.

Although it behoooooves me to add any complaints regarding sexism in Japan, my five year old daughter does hate the lack of girl flying fish, especially since my little heifer would rather fly than pose like a doll on Girls Day.  If you have any calves of your own, it may be best to keep the identity of the fish unmentioned, and merely celebrate all children on this day, instead of moooing out the story to a little cow who may complain.


Got a question for Udder Smith? Ask in the comments section–maybe she’ll answer your question next!

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