koi-nobori / 鯉のぼり

The term “koi-nobori” refers to windsocks painted and shaped to depict colorful carp (koi) which are traditionally flown on the fifth of May, a day now known as Children’s Day in Japan. Originally, the day was known as Boy’s Day (Tango no Sekku), a complement to Girl’s Day (Hina-matsuri) held on March 3rd. On May 5th, families fly koi-nobori outside their homes, one for each son, or, more recently, for each child, in the family.

In Western culture, the carp is thought to be “dirty” or “common” because of its bottom-feeding nature. In Asia, however, the carp is perceived as a noble creature. For centuries, throughout Asia, fishermen and farmers alike watched as carp struggled tirelessly upstream, against the current, leaping out of the water as they appeared to try to climb the waterfalls they encountered. These natural phenomenon lead to the folk belief that carp that managed to overcome great waterfalls would be transformed into dragons for their strength, courage, and perseverance. Thus, carp became symbols of traits that people wished their sons to have.

The image of the carp seems especially fitting as a symbol of hope for the survivors of the Tohoku disaster. The koi-nobori fly high both in honor of those who were lost, and as encouragement for those who still live – be strong, keep your courage, and persevere, no matter how impossible it may seem.

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