Koinobori is an element of traditional celebration ingrained in Japanese history. From as early as the mid Edo era (somewhere between 1600s – 1800s), these beautiful carp streamers have been used as a way to symbolise and wish success and advancement for children.
When you travel to Japan between late April and early May, you will encounter many displays of koinobori. These colourful streamers are often flown during this period as a celebration of children, peaking on May 5th, the official Children’s Day.
These days, there are multi colored streamers that will catch the eye of any passer-by. Whether they’re high up in the sky, strung between buildings, or floating low across the streams, these unique carp-shaped streamers will be sure to present stunning imagery.
To an outsider, these carp-shaped streamers may appear to be just eye-catching decorations, but there is an interesting history associated with how it came to be.
Read on below to find out more about koinobori.
History of Koinobori
There is a story that has been passed down for generations now about how koinobori became the official symbol of Children’s Day.
The word ‘koinobori’ is actually made of two words – ‘koi’, meaning carp, and ‘nobori’, meaning flag.
The origin of koinobori is said to have started sometime between 1603 – 1868. During this period, the Shogun (military leaders) of the Edo period brought about the idea to raise flags on which carps were drawn to celebrate newborn boys in Shogun families.
As the Shogun were the most elite level of generals during that era, the method of celebration needed to be a first-class one. They decided to raise carp flags as they were considered a symbol of advancement and success. With the flags raised high and proud, they also prayed for the prosperity of descendants of the Shogun.
Whilst it was originally something exclusive to sons in the family, over time, the meaning of the koinobori has changed and now encompasses females within the family as well. Thus, by raising a koinobori flag, you are wishing well upon all children.
But why, do you ask, is it a carp of all creatures?
Indeed, there is actually another story behind that reason as well!
As the old Japanese tale goes, there was once a time when many fish tried to swim up the stream of a river named ‘Koga River’. The current was strong and thus many attempts were futile. However, a golden carp managed to successfully reach the upper stream and became a magical dragon.
The Japanese people refer to this story when defining the carp as a symbol of courage and ability to achieve goals. Of all the fish to attempt to swim upstream, only the carp’s strength and perseverance allowed it to become the first and only one to succeed.
During the Edo period, these traits were considered highly desirable in a male, and so the carp was chosen as the symbol of the koinobori. However, as mentioned earlier, the koinobori flag is now raised in honour of all children in the family.
Soon after the idea of raising a carp streamer was made famous by the Shogun, local commoners began to imitate the activity and thus began the origin of the koinobori.
Over time, people added their own additional flair to the koinobori. They included more colour around the carp flags and even added windsocks. All of these traits carried on over the years to land where they are today.
Shop Your Carp Streamer Online
We received a lot of messages asking if we could add Koinobori to our online store. We are happy to let you know that it’s done! 🙂
Now, you can get your carp streamer at home and display it like Japanese people do. Different colours and sizes are available so choose your favorite and bring courage and determination to yourself and your family!
Characteristics of Koinobori
At first glance, the koinobori looks like a flamboyant carp flag with flashy colours and streamers. However, the koinobori is actually made up of significant symbolic parts that create the whole flag.
Starting from the top, we have the ‘yaguruma’. This is the tip of the flagpole and usually consists of a pair of arrow-spoked wheels with a ball-shaped spinning vane.
Below the yayurama is the fukinagashi. This is a vibrant flying streaming which looks like a windsock.
Below that is where the carp streamers are placed. Generally, the first carp streamer is a black one, representing the father of the household. It is traditionally followed by a smaller red koinobori which is meant to represent the eldest son and then additional blue/green/purple/orange koinobori for any subsequent boys in the family.
These days, the symbolism of the koinobori has changed. The red koinobori now represents the mother of the family and the rest of the carp streamers are now indicative of the family’s children, both sons and daughters.
When Are Koinobori Displayed In Japan
The koinobori are displayed throughout Japan from the end of April until early May. You will notice them particularly around May 5th, when it is Children’s Day and the koinobori are flown high to celebrate the happiness of boys and girls.
Some interesting spots where you may be able to spot them include:
- Kokubu river in Chiba prefecture
- Kazo City, Saitama Prefecture – Apparently the biggest koinobori ever created originated here. It is 100m long and weighs a whopping 350kg!
- Aso, Kumao Prefecture – If you visit this region around Children’s Day, make sure you stop by the Tsuetate hot springs because they raise approximately 3,500 koinobori across their humble town to celebrate the children.
- Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture – Around 200 koinobori are proudly displayed swimming through the Asano river during this time. At night, they’re even illuminated!
- Takaoka, Kochi Prefecture – In this quaint town in south-western Japan, a crazy 500 koinobori are raised across the beautiful Toh River. This is quite a sight to behold!
- Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture – This is by far one of the biggest koinobori displays you’ll come across. In this city alone, more than 5000 koinobori are raised, creating a sea of colourful flags across the city.
This beautiful piece of Japanese history is yet another reason why people come and fall in love with this country. In a world where technology undermines the significance of many traditions, Japan shines through with a strong and proud hold on their culture.
If you do happen to visit during these times, you can actually purchase koinobori as souvenirs if you’d like! Just pop into toy stores, Don Quijote stores, or even supermarkets! They would often sell them alongside other merchandise such as stickers for you to take home as well.
But if you are not coming to Japan anytime soon, get your Koinobori online and bring a piece of Japan in your house!
We hope you enjoyed this small slice of Japanese culture! And for more similar articles, feel free to read these blog posts: omamori, what is a geisha and daruma dolls.