Children's Day in Japan and Koinobori Song

Kazuharu Yamada

EyeEm/Getty Images 

May 5 is Japan's national holiday known as, Kodomo no hi 子供の日 (Children's day). It is a day to celebrate the health and happiness of children. Until 1948, it was called, "Tango no Sekku (端午の節句)", and only honored boys. Although this holiday became known as, "Children's Day", many Japanese still consider it a Boy's Festival. On the other hand, "Hinamatsuri (ひな祭り)", which falls on March 3rd, is a day to celebrate girls.

Children's Day

Families with boys fly, "Koinobori 鯉のぼり (carp-shaped streamers)", to express the hope that they will grow up healthy and strong. The carp is a symbol of strength, courage, and success. In a Chinese legend, a carp swam upstream to become a dragon. The Japanese proverb, "Koi no takinobori (鯉の滝登り, Koi's waterfall climbing)", means, "to succeed vigorously in life." Warrior dolls and warrior helmets called, "Gogatsu-ningyou", are also displayed in a boy's house.

Kashiwamochi is one of the traditional foods that are eaten on this day. It is a steamed rice cake with sweet beans inside and is wrapped in an oak leaf. Another traditional food is, chimaki, which is a dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves.

On Children's Day, there is a custom to take a shoubu-yu (a bath with floating shoubu leaves). Shoubu (菖蒲) is a type of iris. It has long leaves that resemble swords. Why the bath with shoubu? It is because shoubu is believed to promote good health and to ward off evil. It is also hung under the eaves of homes to drive away evil spirits. "Shoubu (尚武)" also means, "materialism, warlike spirit", when using different kanji characters.

Koinobori Song

There is a children's song called, "Koinobori", that is often sung during this time of the year. Here are the lyrics in romaji and Japanese.

Yane yori takai koinobori
Ookii magoi wa otousan
Chiisai higoi wa kodomotachi
Omoshirosouni oyoideru

屋根より高い 鯉のぼり
大きい真鯉は お父さん
小さい緋鯉は 子供達
面白そうに 泳いでる


yane 屋根 --- roof
takai 高い --- high
ookii 大きい --- big
otousan お父さん --- father
chiisai 小さい --- small
kodomotachi 子供たち --- children
omoshiroi 面白い --- enjoyable
oyogu 泳ぐ --- to swim

"Takai", "ookii", "chiisai" and "omoshiroi" are I-adjectives.

There is an important lesson to learn regarding terms used for Japanese family members. Different terms are used for family members depending on whether the person referred to is part of the speaker's own family or not. Also, there are terms for directly addressing members of the speakers' family.

For example, let's look at the word "father". When referring to someone's father, "otousan" is used. When referring your own father, "chichi" is used. However, when addressing your father, "otousan" or "papa" is used.

  • Anata no otousan wa se ga takai desu ne. あなたのお父さんは背が高いですね。--- Your father is tall, isn't he?
  • Watashi no chichi wa takushii no untenshu desu. 私の父はタクシーの運転手です。--- My father is a taxi driver.
  • Otousan, hayaku kite! お父さん、早く来て!--- Dad, come quickly!


"Yori (より)" is a particle and is used when comparing things. It translates into "than".

  • Kanada wa nihon yori samui desu. カナダは日本より寒いです。--- Canada is colder than Japan.
  • Amerika wa nihon yori ookii desu. アメリカは日本より大きいです。--- America is larger than Japan.
  • Kanji wa hiragaba yori muzukashii desu. 漢字はひらがなより難しいです。 --- Kanji is more difficult than hiragana.

In the song, Koinobori is the topic of the sentence (the order is changed because of the rhyme), therefore, "koinobori wa yane yori takai desu (鯉のぼりは屋根より高いです)" is a common order for this sentence. It means the "koinobori is higher than the roof."

The suffix "~tachi" is added to make the plural form of personal pronouns. For example: "watashi-tachi", "anata-tachi" or "boku-tachi". It can also be added to some other nouns, such as "kodomo-tachi (children)".

"~sou ni" is an adverb form of "~ sou da". "~ sou da" means, "it appears".

  • Kare wa totemo genki sou desu. 彼はとても元気そうです。--- He looks very healthy.
  • Sore wa oishisouna ringo da. それはおいしそうなりんごだ。--- That is a delicious looking apple.
  • Kanojo wa totemo shindosouni sokoni tatteita. 彼女はとてもしんどそうにそこに立っていた。--- She was standing there looking very tired.
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Abe, Namiko. "Children's Day in Japan and Koinobori Song." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Abe, Namiko. (2023, April 5). Children's Day in Japan and Koinobori Song. Retrieved from Abe, Namiko. "Children's Day in Japan and Koinobori Song." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).