You may have heard of Golden Week in Japan, and even taken a vacation during the national holiday. But do you know what name actually stands for, or how to celebrate it in Tokyo?
As it turns out, Golden Week actually encompasses four different holidays! To honor these, there is a national holiday of about a week’s time, which varies slightly from year to year.
The most iconic of the four reasons to celebrate is Kodomo no Hi, or “Children’s Day”. Traditionally celebrated on May 5, Kodomo no Hi is meant to be a time to celebrate the health and happiness of children.
The holiday focused on boys (girls were celebrated on March 3), and actually has very old roots, and some say it might have been based on similar customs in China. In Japan, in particular, the colorful streamers are a lively tradition that brightens the skies of spring.
There are a few different traditional ways of observing Kodomo no Hi, but the one that you are sure to see around town are the koinobori, the colorful carp streamers that are hung outside the home in the hope that children will grow up strong and successful. The carp as a symbol of vitality is also said to date to China, to the myth of the carp who swims upstream through a mighty river and becomes a dragon.
Seeing the carp streamers flying in the wind in honor of Kodomo no Hi is truly a joyful sight! Here are some of the best places to spy these colorful fishes in Tokyo.
Tokyo Tower: 333 Carp for 333 Meters
Definitely the most famous koinobori display in the city can be found at Tokyo Tower. Here, exactly 333 carp are flown as a nod to the tower’s height of 333 meters. The koinobori here are on display from March 25 to May 9.
Since Tokyo Tower is lit up at night, they are enjoyable at any time of day or night. To get to Tokyo Tower, either take the Tokyo Metro Hibiya line to Kamiyacho, or the Oedo line to Akabanebashi. The tower is about a ten minute walk from either of these stations.
Higashi Shirahige Park: A Sprawling Park with Sky Tree Views
For a view of that other tower, the Tokyo Sky Tree, head to Higashi Shirahige Park in Tokyo’s Sumida ward. From April 25 to May 20, this sprawling park is decorated with over 400 koinobori.
In the past, various events have been held during the annual festival, such as flea markets, games for children, and even concerts. While there won’t be any events during 2021 due to the pandemic, this is still a great place for a socially-distanced stroll and opportunity to snag a coveted photo of the Tokyo Sky Tree surrounded by carp streamers.
Higashi Shirahige Park can be reached via the Sato 22 bus between Nippori and Kameido Station, going towards Kameido. Alternatively, you can take the Tokyo Metro Tobu Skytree Line (formerly called Hanzomon Line) to Higashi-Mukojima Station and walk for ten minutes.
Tokyo Midtown: An Artistic and Immersive Koinobori Experience
One rather innovative Children’s Day display is happening this year at the chic Tokyo Midtown Garden in Roppongi. Throughout the park, visitors can enjoy the 112 colorful koinobori that have been hung up. These are not the traditional koi that you see all over Japan, however. They have been specially designed by artists in Japan and abroad.
When you’re finished admiring the artistry of the carp dancing in the breeze, there is a big surprise in store: a 25-meter long giant koinobori that viewers can walk through! Feel like a kid again as you explore the inside of this special display, and wish for the health and happiness of children worldwide.
To get there, go to Roppongi Station via the Oedo Line [Exit 8] or the Hibiya Line [Direct link via underground passageway from Roppongi Station, Exit 4a], or take the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line to Nogizaka Station [Exit 3] for a 3-minute walk to Tokyo Midtown.
One of the most delightful aspects about life in Japan is the opportunity to observe Japanese culture such as traditional festivals and national holidays. This year will necessarily be more restrained as precautions are put in place to avoid the further spread of COVID-19. However, there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy the colorful Kodomo no Hi carp streamers and make the most of your Golden Week in Tokyo.
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Author: Maureen Stone