What are “koinobori” and why are they everywhere in Japan this week?


Japan is covered in colorful carp kites this week. Here’s what you need to know about koinoboria centuries-old Japanese tradition.

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A koinobori is a large funnel kite or carp-shaped windsock. Celebrations using koinobori in Japan date back to the mid-1600s in the Edo period. Vibrating kites appear in late April and early May, centered around May 5, Children‘s Day in Japan.

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A Brief History of Koinobori

Koinobori roughly translates to “carp streamer”, with “koi” meaning carp and “nobori” meaning flag. According to Sugoii-Japanthe koinobori originated between 1603 and 1868. The Shogun, a group of elite military leaders, wanted to celebrate their male heirs by raising koi flags.

The koi is quite symbolic in Japanese culture. An old myth prevails that when the fish tried to swim upstream in the Koga River, it accomplished the impossible task and became a magic dragon. Thus, the fish represents courage and determination.

When locals got wind of the Shogun’s practice, they began to imitate the celebration.

Modern koinobori in Japan today

Since 1948, Japanese families have been flying koinobori on Children’s Day for all children, not just boys. Tucked into Japan’s official Golden Week, Children’s Day is a national holiday to celebrate the health and growth of young people.

A set of koinobori are traditionally displayed vertically on a flag pole by a family. Flags have evolved into personal artistic expressions with unique details, but the color of each koinobori has a special meaning.

According to Koinobori-Japan, the first flag is usually a streamer colored with the family crest. The next and largest flag is black and represents the dadthe second largest is red and represents the motherand the following flags represent the children, from the eldest to the youngest.

But nowadays, most families, especially in urban areas, don’t have enough space to hang their flags vertically. You can expect to see horizontally hanging koinobori these days, dangling from ropes over buildings, rivers and valleys. Regardless of how they are hung, these beautiful cultural motifs reflect Japan’s past, present and future by uniting people across the country.

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