Monday, May 6, 2019

Children's Day Illustration and Cultural Notes

Yesterday, Yu Suzuki tweeted out a Shenmue-themed illustration in celebration of Children's Day, featuring Ryo and Shenhua (and a little yellow bird).

Children's Day is a day on which families in Japan celebrate the healthy growth and happiness of children. It is also a national holiday and is held on May 5 every year.
Children's Day illustration, tweeted by Yu Suzuki. The vertical writing at the left side reads "Kodomo no hi" (=Children's Day in Japanese), while the horizontal writing reads "Tango no Sekku" (explained later in this post).
In the illustration, Ryo is riding atop a blue-colored carp, recalling the image of a character from Japanese folklore who is often associated with Children's Day: Kintarō, a child with superhuman strength who once fought a giant carp, among his many adventures.
Kintarō, a folk hero from Japanese folklore, is said to have fought a giant carp.
In fact, the carp on which Ryo is riding here is in the shape of a windsock known as a koinobori (carp streamer). These streamers are commonly flown above houses with children for Children's Day and can be of various sizes, from smaller ones under a meter on the balconies of inner-city apartments to large ones of many meters in length that are strung up on poles in more open areas.

Typically, the biggest streamer (black) represents the father, the next-biggest the mother (red or pink), and an additional, smaller carp of a different color for each child in decreasing order by age.
Koi nobori (carp streamers)
On Ryo's head is a folded paper samurai helmet, which is a popular decoration for Children's Day. Homes are decorated with a samurai helmet miniature, representing the family's wish to raise strong and powerful boys.
A samurai helmet is a popular decoration for Children's Day
Standing in the background on a small island is Shenhua, holding a small pinwheel / windmill. This is also another decoration that is commonly associated with Children's Day.
The pinwheel is another common Children's Day decoration.
The small yellow "mohawk" bird we have seen several times before also joins in the celebration with a cameo in this illustration. Suffice it to say, he has no traditional connection with Children's Day!
Who is this little guy!
The geometric patterns that can be seen in the background of the illustration also have special meaning. These traditional Japanese designs are called wagara, and often take the form of a single design that is placed in a recurring pattern.

Blue Sea Wave (Seigaiha): this pattern is a series of concentric arches that resemble waves, and symbolizes peace, good luck, and good fortune.
Blue Sea Wave design

Hemp Leaf (Asa no ha): This pattern was named after its resemblance to a hemp leaf. It is connected to the ideas of growth and children's health, since hemp is durable and grows quickly. (Source: Manga de Japan).
Hemp leaf design

The Origins of Children's Day

Although known in modern times as Children's Day, the name by which this day has been known since ancient times is"Tango no Sekku" (which is also written in kanji horizontally on the illustration).

Tango no Sekku is the name of one of five important annual ceremonies that were traditionally held at the Japanese imperial court and is thought to be derived from Chinese thinking that was brought into Japan around mid 6th century, when people tried to expel evil spirits and protect themselves from bad luck. It was assigned a date of the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, which was regarded as an unlucky date.

Note: in modern-day China the equivalent of the Tango no Sekku is held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar still today, and is a cultural festival that is known by several names such as the Duanwu Festival or Dragon Boat Festival. (Thanks to yuc02 for this information!).

In Japan, it underwent further changes later, in the 12th century: as the Samurai warriors began to gain power, Tango no Sekku came to be considered a boys' event through the influence of the Samurai culture.

When Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1873 the date was moved to May 5th. Subsequently, in 1948, the government decreed the day to be a national holiday to celebrate the happiness of all children and hence the holiday was given the name "Children's Day".

Link to Yu Suzuki's tweet
References; bite JapanWikipedia

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  1. Very interesting information dude! I love those carp streamers :)...kind of want to get a set for outside my office haha! (would need 3 small ones for each dog haha)

    That bird is so cryptic, you don't even notice it in the images it always following Ryo?

    1. The carp streamers make a pretty addition to the Japanese landscape during early May. Yes, you can also get them in small souvenir sizes!

      I'm really intrigued about that bird too. Perhaps he'll bring Ryo some good luck on his adventure :)

  2. Could it be possible, that the bird is a logo of sorts for YS Net? Not asserting that it is, just throwing it out there! :)

    1. It would make a great mascot character for YS Net. They could have a human-sized version for stage and promotional events!

  3. In home we have a Samurai helmet for my kid. He can also wear it, so it is not a miniature

    1. Oh, he's lucky to have a Samurai helmet which he can even wear. May it foster his samurai spirit!