Animal Culture

Koinobori: Japanese Carp Streamers

When May comes in Japan, it is customary to decorate and hang "Koinobori(鯉のぼり)" outdoors so you might have seen this before. But do you know what does it mean exactly? 

On this article, we will introduce Koinobori, Japanese Carp Streamers! 

What is Koinobori and Children's Day?

Koinobori are cloth streamers in the shape of carp which are flown on a tall pole on 5th May(Children's Day: 子供の日). The flying of koinobori symbolizes the wish that the boys in the family will grow to be as strong and courageous as the carp.

Children's Day is celebrated on 5th May. The day was traditionally celebrated as the Boy's Festival (Tando no Sekku: 端午の節句)until immediately World War Ⅱ. Although the tradition of celebrating   Boy's Festival still remains, Children's Day is now regarded as a holiday for wishing all children, boys and girls alike, happiness and prosperity. 

History of Koinobori

"Meisho Edo Meisho  Suidobashi Surugadai", Hiroshige Utagawa, 1857

According to Japanese American National Museum, the carp was chosen as a symbol for Boys' Day because "the Japanese consider it the most spirited fish -- so full of energy and power that it can fight its way up swift-running streams and cascades. Because of its strength and determination to overcome all obstacles, it stands for courage and the ability to attain high goals. Since these are traits desired in boys, families traditionally flew Koinobori from their homes to honor their sons." (Japanese American National Museum, 2006). According to's Namiko Abe, "in a Chinese legend, a carp swam upstream to become a dragon" (Abe).  According to Asia Kids Society, alongside the Koinobori tradition, "Samurai warrior figurines and samurai kabuto helmets are also displayed in homes to inspire strength and bravery."

Types of Koinobori

A typical koinobori set consists of, from the top of the pole down, a pair of arrow-spoked wheels with a ball-shaped spinning vane, flying-dragon streamer that looks like a windsock. The number and meaning of the carp socks or koinobori that fly beneath the streamer has changed over time. Traditionally, the set would contain a black koinobori representing the father, followed by a smaller, red koinobori representing the mother.If more children are in the household, an additional blue, green and then purple or orange koinobori are added.

Today, along with the raising of Koinobori in each household, Asia Kid Society states that children also "indulge in kashiwa-mochi(柏餅)", sticky rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves, and other sweets. As a tradition, throughout Children's Day, children also thank and show respect for relatives, parents, and teachers for support throughout their life.