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While we hung out the flags on May 5 to celebrate our freedom, around this time in Japan thousands of colorful koinobori are happily fluttering in the wind. Koi means carp and nobori means flag and with these colorful carp flags parents wish their boys a happy life. Although, nowadays that wish actually applies to all children, because May 5 is also kodomo-no-hi every year and that means Children's Day.

Why a carp flag?

The carp is not just the symbol for this day (you can let these flags fly all year round), because it is extremely strong and can even swim up a waterfall. Japanese families hang koinobori outside to wish their children a healthy and strong life, and inside there is a samurai in a battle costume and a samurai helmet (kabuto). Samurai took long flags with them to mark the battle scene. These were originally flags in all kinds of shapes and colors and over the centuries the koinobori was born from them.

A whole set of these carp flags consists of four fish: a black one (the father), a red one (the mother), a blue one and a green one (the children).

The story

This Japanese tradition was born from a Chinese legend. The story is about the journey of carp that swam upstream the Yellow River. The destination of the journey was the “Dragon Gate” where the Emperor held a competition. Every carp that managed to swim through the gate turned into a dragon. If it didn't work, the carp swam back to the sea and tried again the following year.

The most beautiful places in Japan

You actually come across the cheerful flags everywhere in Japan: in the city or in the countryside, at tourist attractions, temples and Shinto shrines. As long as they can hang nice and high, so that it looks like they are swimming in the air. Now that a trip to Japan is not possible for the time being, I would like to take you to a few beautiful places.

It is fun to visit a koinobori festival, because there is always a lot of delicious food and you can enjoy performances. Where would I go? Of course I'll start with a place on Kyushu, the southern island where I lived. They say that Japan's oldest festival takes place there. At the Tsuetate Onsen in Kumamoto, an area where there are many hot springs, the koinobori hang above the water.

There are quite a few rivers over which fish flags are stretched. An hour by train from Tokyo is Ibaraki, where as many as 1,000 koinobori hang over the river. Takatsuki is located exactly between Osaka and Kyoto and there they hang above the Akuta River.

In the capital it is fun to visit Tokyo Midtown, a popular shopping center in the middle of Tokyo. They organize various activities for the whole family and from the end of April to the beginning of May there is a Koinobori Art Collection. Beautifully painted koinobori by about 100 artists then blow in the wind. You can also paint a carp flag yourself for a few hundred yen.

Happiness in your home

If you want to bring this ancient Japanese tradition into your home, make a cheerful garland. All you need is some origami leaves, a marker, a thread and a thick needle.

Fold the fish according to this diagram (download here), it's really not that difficult! Draw the eyes on the fish, string them on a cord or thread and hang them.

S pecially for you, this Roppongi Koinobori origami DIY tutorial. Click here & download and make a cheerful garland.

Get a real koinobori at home

If you are not very handy, take a look at this beautiful koinobori collection from Madame Mo at Roppongi . They deserve a place of honor in your home!

At Roppongi you will find many different carp flags, large and small, they are all real eye-catchers. They are often hung in the house and immediately brighten up a room, but they are also great fluttering in the wind. Choose your own koinobori at Roppongi , or order a whole 'family' immediately ;-)


Ingrid Beijer - Roppongi

The author: Ingrid Beyer

Ingrid from Happlify crew member Roppongi is a far too modest Japan expert who can tell you all the ins and outs. Roppongi is the webshop for lovers of Japan, design, good food, tea and DIY. Visit Roppongi and the blog regularly for the quickest trip to Japan. Ingrid's blog posts >

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