My sons are half-Japanese. Their Japanese roots can be traced back to something like the ninth century. Their Japanese grandmother’s family has a samurai background. Their Japanese grandfather’s family comes from humble roots, but they can be traced back centuries too. I was very close to my sons’ great-grandparents and relished all of the stories and the richness of the familial heritage. When my sons were born, their names were written on the ancient family scrolls in Japan.
I wanted my sons to have some knowledge of their Japanese heritage. I learned enough Japanese to be conversational (if I spoke to them in Japanese when we were in public, they knew I meant business), learned to cook some of the traditional dishes, and incorporated a few traditions, like Boy’s Day, into our own family traditions. I must have been Japanese in a past life because I love the culture.
Boy’s Day, Tango-no-Sekku, is celebrated on May 5. The corresponding Girl’s Day is celebrated March 3. In modern Japan, May 5 is now celebrated as Children’s Day and is a national holiday. Children are seen as one of the nation’s greatest assets. The day is set aside to stress the importance of respecting the character of children and promoting their health and happiness. It is also the day for children to express their gratitude for the tender love and care they receive from their parents.
One custom is to fly a carp kite for each son in the family. My sons had his own carp kite that we hung outside on Boy’s Day. The carp has become a symbol for Boy’s Day because it is the most spirited of all fish. It is 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. The carp is an appropriate symbol to encourage manliness and the overcoming of life’s difficulties leading to consequent success.
A favorite legend is Kintaro and figurines are displayed in special corners of the house. Kintaro was a samurai hero who displayed great strength and bravery when still a child. It is said he rode a bear instead of a horse and was friends with all the forest animals when he was a boy. My oldest son was given his set of Kintaro dolls when he was born and each year we read the stories as part of our Boy’s Day celebration.
Mochi (a sweet, rice confection often with a sweet bean paste) and chimaki (a sweet rice paste wrapped in iris leaves) are served. They are so tasty! Needless to say, mochi is impossible to come by in my part of Texas!
Neither of my sons have sons of their own. However, when May 5 comes around every year, my internal clock reminds me of the Boy’s Days we’ve celebrated together. I’m so grateful they have their rich Japanese heritage to draw from. They are still samurai at heart.