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Lesson Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Culture Class: Holidays in Japan Series on JapanesePod101.com. In this series, we’re exploring the traditions behind Japanese holidays and observances. I’m Becky, and you're listening to Season 1, Lesson 13: Boys’ Festival.
The Boys' Festival, or 端午の節句 (Tango no Sekku), is an annual event held on May 5th. It began when the Chinese custom of exorcising evil spirits with herbs arrived in Japan. In Japan, it has been celebrated since ancient times as a traditional event to pray for the healthy growth of boys. These days it’s a national holiday in Japan that is also known as Children’s Day, and not only boys, but also girls participate in the celebration.
Now, before we go into more detail, do you know the answer to this question: there is a special flower for the Boys' Festival, just like there is for 雛祭り (Hina-matsuri), or Doll’s Festival. Which flower do you think it is?
If you don’t already know, you’ll find out a bit later. Keep listening.
As Boys' Festival on May 5th approaches, the exteriors of houses, verandas, and parks are decorated with carp streamers. These streamers are made in the shape of a carp fish, called 鯉 (koi) in Japanese. An old Chinese tale tells of a 鯉 (koi) that appeared to have climbed a dangerous river known as 登龍 (Tōryū). This 鯉 (koi) then became a dragon. From this story, 鯉(koi) streamers came to be used as decorations to express wishes for "children to become mighty." Usually, 鯉 (koi) of various sizes are used to represent an entire family, with the largest 鯉 koi said to be the father, the next largest the mother, and the smaller 鯉 (koi) the children.
Also, the insides of homes are decorated with armor and helmets. In ancient times, when 侍 (samurai) would fight, they would wear helmets and armor to protect themselves. Helmets and armor became decorations from this tradition because they were said to protect the boy's body. There is also a doll called a 五月人形 (go-gatsu ningyō), meaning "May doll." Typically, these are boys dressed as 侍 (samurai) and 金太郎 (Kintarō), or “the Golden Boy,” with diamond-shaped aprons.
柏餅 (kashiwamochi) is eaten during the Boys' Festival. 柏餅 (kashiwamochi) is a sweet made by stuffing rice cakes with bean paste and wrapping the cakes in oak leaves. The old leaves of 柏 (kashiwa), meaning "oak tree," do not fall until new leaves appear. Thus, oak leaves eaten with 柏餅 (kashiwamochi) express the desire that the "family tree will continue forever," or in other words, there will be "prosperity for their descendants."
Here’s our fun fact for the day! Did you know that some regions also eat 粽 (chimaki) for the Boys’ Festival? 粽 (Chimaki) is a food derived from China and is made by wrapping steamed glutinous rice with leaves such as bamboo grass.
Now it's time to answer our quiz question: what’s the special flower for this holiday?
The correct answer is the iris. The leaves of the iris have a strong fragrance. People in ancient China believed that this fragrance exorcised evil spirits. Placing iris leaves into baths for health and into 酒 (sake) for drinking formed the beginnings of the Boys' Festival. These days families also take baths called 菖蒲湯 (shōbuyu), meaning "floating iris leaves."
Well listeners, how was this lesson?
Did you learn something new?
In your country, do you celebrate the growth of boys?
Please leave us a comment telling us at JapanesePod101.com.
And we’ll see you next time!