By Shirley Iida
The grand sight of carp-shaped koinobori flying vibrantly in the gentle trade winds of Hawaii signals the arrival of “Tango No Sekku,” or more commonly recognized as Boy’s Day on May 5th.
Girl’s Day, called “Hina Matsuri,” was March 3rd. But girls can still be honored on May 5th together with boys, says Company President Robert Iida. In Japan, the celebration of girls and boys are combined into one day called “Kodomo No Hi” or Children’s Day each year on May 5th.
“Kodomo No Hi” became a national holiday proclaimed by the Japanese government in 1948 to celebrate the happiness of all children. Equality between girls and boys became particularly significant after World War II in 1946, Iida said.
Children’s Day is actually observed all over the world, he said, but only Hawaii has kept the old custom of having Girl’s Day and Boy’s Day festivities on separate days.
The first year for any newborn, whether it’s a girl or boy, is the most significant and meaningful. Hina Matsuri Glass Doll Cases for girls and Koinobori Sets for boys are the best sellers for new families, Iida said.
Hina Matsuri dolls on a tiered altar covered with red carpet are displayed in February and into March to instill a long, happy and healthy life for the daughter in the family. Although, according to superstition, leaving it out after March 3rd can result in a late marriage for the daughter. Other dolls for Girl’s Day can be displayed throughout the year.
Carp are known for their strength and virility to swim up waterfalls against the current. The way carp-shaped koinobori blow in the wind appears as if they are swimming vigorously upstream, a characteristic meant to encourage sons in the family to grow brave and strong.
Koinobori can be flown as early as April and left outside for 2 months, said Iida, who has seen koinobori flying as late as August in Japan.
A Koinobori Set from Iida’s costs $187 for a 1 meter (or 39”); $265 for a 1.5 meter (59”); and $315 for a 2 meter (79”). Each set consists of a windmill, Fukinagashi (or Battle Streamer), 3 carp in graduated sizes and an extendable aluminum pole. Individual koi are also sold separately.
Iida further explains that cotton koi may last a long time, but nylon koi fly effortlessly in the wind.
The windmill is for mere decoration. Fukinagashi is a battle streamer of blue, yellow, red, green and pink flags. Under the Fukinagashi are 3 carp: the black koi is the longest and the red and blue koi are gradually shorter in length.
Traditionally, the black carp represents the chonan or eldest son in the family, groomed and destined to be a leader. The rest of the fish are followers, Iida said.
But most people identify the black carp “Magoi” as the father, the red carp “Higoi” the mother and the last carp the eldest or only son in the family. More carp in other available colors like green or purple can be added for each subsequent child.
Besides koinobori, Musha Ningyo in glass doll cases and Kabuto helmets are popular gifts for boys.
Iida, who is 85, fondly remembers sharing the history and meaning of Girl’s and Boy’s Day to a crowd of as many as 150 people at senior citizen centers and Japanese classes at Farrington and Roosevelt High Schools 30 years ago.
The experience was rewarding, even though he had to repeat the same speech as often as 7 times in one day for each Japanese class, he said.
“The crowds were enthusiastic,” he said. “Good fun.” His explanation gave people of all ages a chance to learn more about their Japanese heritage.
“I don’t regret it,” Iida said.