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Fish kites for Children's Day

Filed Under: kids, miscellaneous, seasonal, Crafts

Fish kites (koinobori) by Flickr user skyseeker.

Back in March, I wrote about Hinamatsuri, a Japanese traditional festival celebrating the happiness and growth of young girls. Hinamatsuri is interesting, but it's not a national holiday in Japan: that distinction goes to Children's Day (Kodomo no hi), which was known as Boys' Day until the late 1940s, when it was expanded to include girls. And Children's Day is today!

The most visible symbol of Children's Day to most people is probably the koinobori, or fish kite (sometimes called a koi kite or carp kite). These are colorful windsocks shaped like a long koi. They are usually tied to a bamboo pole, where the wind catches them and makes them look like they're "swimming."

There are a few legends attached to why the koinobori are displayed, but most relate to the koi being energetic and courageous in the way it goes against the current, leaping out of the water when it swims. The koi becomes a metaphor for parents' hopes for their children, particularly their sons.

Today is a perfect day for family members to make simple paper or fabric fish kites of their own. After the break, we'll explore some of the history and motifs of this holiday, and check out a variety of related crafts: not just koinobori! We'll also talk about some non-traditional, totally American ways to celebrate the kids in your life.

Children's Day in Japan(click thumbnails to view gallery)

A plethora of koinoboriChirimen crepe koinoboriHandmade koi kitesBoy with streamersBoys' Day display

Customs and Traditions

  • Tango no Sekku?: The Los Angeles-area Venice Japanese Community Center presents a detailed article about Children's Day, explaining that in spite of the re-purposing of the holiday about 60 years ago, most families still celebrate it in the traditional way as Boys' Day. If you are interested in the story behind some of the holiday's other elements, like its traditional foods and the samurai warrior dolls associated with it, this is a great link to check out.
  • Children's Day Traditions: Stories for Children Magazine sheds more light on the topic of fish kites and how they are often displayed.
  • Japanese Boys' Day: Little Buddha Baby discusses some other ideas about the origins of koinobori: as a sort of ancient "scarecrow" for crop-devouring insects. You'll also find a recipe for pink mochi, a sticky baked rice treat.
  • Koinobori: Celebrating the Spirit of Boys' Day: The Japanese-American National Museum site talks about fish kites, how to display them, and the meaning behind the display. You can also purchase pre-made kites at this site.
  • Koinobori, Boys' Day, and Children's Day: Ginkoya shares some fish kite photos, including a few related to home decor that show the truly giant scale of some of the kites and offer some creative ideas for using them.

Crafts and activities

  • Children's Day, Japan at Activity Village: The best page I've found on the topic, with regard to the number and variety of projects on it (a few of the links below are also listed on this one).

    There's a printable coloring sheet that can be cut and glued into a koinobori (the fastest fish kite project on this page), an origami version to make, printable bookmarks and stationery with koi on them, paper samurai helmet and sword projects, and links to numerous educational sites with tons of other downloadable projects and activities related to the topic, like coloring pages and puzzles.
  • Children's Day at the Teachers' Asian Studies Summer Institute: A complete educational unit based on the holiday and geared towards instructors. It features plenty of ideas for activities, and uses the occasion as a chance to launch a deeper exploration of Japanese culture. This one may be particularly helpful to homeschooling families.
  • Fishy Business carp kite tutorial at A paper fish kite made with individual scales. This is fast and easy, with a colorful and appealing final result. This version uses mostly tissue paper, scrap paper, a small amount of construction paper, glitter, and glue.
  • Koinobori tutorial at PBS's Zoom: This fish kite is unlike most of the other tutorials here in that it's made with scrap fabric from an old pillowcase and fabric glue. That means the resulting kite should be comparatively durable.
  • Japanese Carp Wind Sock at A tutorial that uses wrapping paper and a small wooden hoop for an interesting stylized kite. It's probably the simplest version of this project in this list.
  • Printable paper koinobori: Just print out this page (from a Japanese site), then cut out the shapes, fold them in half, and glue them together. You'll wind up with four different styles of streamers that could be used as bookmarks, to make a banner (if you fold them over a thread before gluing them), in a diorama, and so on. You could also try folding them around a thin bamboo skewer, then displaying them traditionally... in miniature!
  • Kabuto-Kazari papercraft: A complex paper model from Yamaha. The kabuto-kazari is the samurai helmet traditionally displayed on Boys' Day. Totally cool, but not recommended for younger children, due to its relative difficulty.
  • How to Celebrate Children's Day at Suggestions that have nothing to do with the traditional Japanese observance of the holiday. Instead, they focus on making your kids feel special and having a fun time as a family. Although these ideas are geared towards May 5th, they could help make any day into a special day for your favorite child.

  • crafty chica

    those fish kites are amazing! i never heard of these celebrations, thank you for sharing!!

  • M.E. Williams

    Glad you liked it! :D

    When I was in kindergarten... I don't think i knew *why* we were making them, but we made fish kites (well, we stuffed ours with newspaper) -- I still have mine! I think it's such a cute and fun project for kids.

    I'm not sure what I'm going to talk about when I run out of Japanese holidays... ;)

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