Why Are Fish Flags Flown on Children’s Day in Japan?

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These flags of flying fish are actually a special breed of Japanese carp 「koi, 鯉」 which are bred for ornamental purposes. The carp flags (or kites/streamers) are known as koinobori 「鯉幟」 and symbolise Children’s Day in Japan, held on May 5 every year.

Koinobori 「鯉幟」
at Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower and Koi Carp Streamers

Canon DIGITAL IXUS 65 (5.8mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO0)
Tokyo Tower and Koi Carp Streamers

Children’s Day 「kodomo-no-hi, こどもの日」 is on the final day of the 7 day Golden Week public holiday period in Japan.

The koi streamers are made like a reverse wind sock, with a small opening at the top end at the mouth of the fish, and a larger opening at the other end, at the koi’s tail fin.

This set of koi streamers was spotted in mid-April at Tokyo Tower, about 3 weeks before Children’s Day on May 5.

The different coloured koi streamers often have a meaning behind them, black for the father and red for the mother. Around this holiday, families with a son fly the koi streamers in their garden. For these small household streamers, as well as the black and red koi for the father and mother, a smaller coloured koi is flown for each son.

Koi: The Symbol of Children’s Day

The koi is a fish that swims upstream, and can even leap out of the water over small obstacles. In the wind the koi streamers appear to be swimming vigorously upstream. The koi is used as an icon for Children’s Day as it signifies parent’s hopes for their children to be determined and strong, trying with all the vigour of the swimming carp.

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