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International Music & Culture
A place for poems, songs, rhymes and traditions from around the world for both kids and grown-ups to enjoy!
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I’m going into my daughter’s class this week to talk about some Japanese Festivals.  It may be helpful to other people who are also covering this topic for me to outline what I’m covering with links to more material.

1) Hina Matsuri – Doll Festival – March 3rd – people pray for their daughters’ future happiness, health and growth.

The hina (dolls) used for this festival are called hina ningyo. These are a set of dolls that are handed down from generation to generation which are specially taken out for this festival. The dolls are displayed on a special stand that has tiers which are covered in red cloth.

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It’s also called Peach Blossom Festival, because it’s around the time the peach blossoms bloom. Peach blossoms are a symbol for a happy marriage.

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Girls dress up specially on this day in their best kimonos. Some girls will dress up like the dolls and have little parties.

Here’s an old traditional song that’s sung for the Festival with the transliterated Japanese, and with a loose English translation.

Hina Matsuri Song

Transliterated Japanese

Akari o tsukema sho bon bori ni
O hana o agemasyo momo no hana
Gonin – bayashi no fue daiko
Kyoo wa tanoshii Hina Matsuri

Loose English Translation

Let’s light the lanterns on the tiered stand
Let’s put peach blossoms on the tiered stand
Five court musicians are playing flutes and drums
Today is a happy Dolls’ Festival.

MP3 of the Hina Matsuri Song

The girl below is singing the song in her special kimono in front of her dolls…

Right after the festival, the dolls are supposed to be put away. If not, it’s thought that the daughter will be slow to marry.

You can learn more about Hina Matsuri on previous blog posts.

2) Tango no Sekku – Boys’ Festival - officially called Children’s Day or Kodomo no hi - May 5th

It’s been celebrated for over 1000 years. Originally it was celebrated in the houses of warriors. It celebrated boys’ courage and determination. Many of the symbols of this day are about having the character of a warrior. Eventually this day became important to all households in Japan with boys. 

Carp Windsock by Hiroshige

Print by famous artist Hiroshige (1797 – 1858)

Large carp windsocks, called koinobori, are displayed outside houses of families with boys. There’s one windsock for each boy in the house. The largest windsock is for the oldest son of the house.  The carp is a symbol of Tango no Sekku, because carp are considered strong and determined.

Here’s a traditional song for Tango no Sekku called Koinoburi or Carp Windsocks.

Koinobori
(Japanese Transliteration)

Yane yori takai koinobori.
Okii magoi wa otoosan.
Chisai higoi wa kodomotachi.
Omoshiro soni oyideru.

Carp Windsocks
(English)

Carp windsocks are above the roof.
The biggest carp is the father,
The smaller carp are children,
They’re enjoying swimming in the sky.

MP3 of Koinobori

You can read more about Tango no Sekku on previous blog posts.

3) Tanabata – The Star Festival – July 7th

Tanabata celebrates the meeting of a husband and wife. They are Orihime (the star Vega) and Hikoboshi (the star Altair). to meet they must cross the river Amanogawa (the Milky Way). They can only meet once a year on this night. it’s the one time they can cross the river. The story is that a flock of magpies help Orihime cross the river on this day only. If it’s a cloudy night, that means the river was too high and Orihame and Hikoboshi couldn’t meet. So in Japan everyone wishes for a clear night full of stars on July 7th.

Ayako Egawa in Japan wrote to me about one fun tradition on this day: “Children write their wishes on strips of fancy paper and put them on displays made of the branches of bamboo trees.”

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Here’s a song for Tanabata…

Sasa no ha sara-sara

In Japanese Romaji:

Sasa no ha sara-sara
Nokiba ni yureru
Ohoshi-sama kira-kira
Kingin sunago

English Translation:

Bamboo leaves are rustling, rustling,
Swaying close to the roof’s edge,
Oh, how the stars are twinkling, twinkling,
Gold and silver grains of sand.

Midi Tune of Sasa no ha sara-sara

You can read more about Tanabata on previous blog posts..

Check out our Japanese Song Pages for many other Japanese kids songs and Holiday Songs.  You can find out more info about other Japanese festivals in the blog side column under Holidays Around the World (once you click it on, you’ll see the different holidays listed in the left-hand column).

Hope this helps!

Mama Lisa

Note: If you’re doing a presentation in a school, you should check if YouTube videos are blocked – if they are, make sure you can play mp3’s and midi tunes.

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5 Responses to “Teaching Kids about Japanese Festivals”

  1. Teacher in Japan Says:

    Pretty interesting, I may use it someday when I teach my own kids about such things :)

  2. Make a Wish upon a Tanabata Tree | Mama Lisa's World Blog Says:

    [...] Here’s what she wrote. It is Star festival, "Tanabata" today. I remember you told about this tradition in your daughter’s class. I saw a beautiful Tanabata display at the entrance of a building. I’d love to show the photo [...]

  3. utari Says:

    wow, i’m so excited about Japanese culture. Hope, someday i would like to go to Japan. What’s a good post! thanks for sharing.

  4. matt Says:

    Hmm, another: shichigosan is pretty big, unless thats another name for one you’ve done

  5. Lisa Says:

    Thanks for pointing out shichi go san. I wrote about it in a previous post (at the link) and have posted a song that’s sung for it called Tooryanse.

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