Boys Festival (tango)


Boys' Festival (tango no sekku 端午の節句)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: Early Summer
***** Category: Observance


The Boy's Festival takes place on the
day with the double odd number five
the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.
now celebrated usually on May 5

Satsuki is the name for the fifth month of the lunar calendar.
Now 6 Jun – 6 Jul.
The change from the lunar to the solar calendar brought some difficulties in keeping the season. Some of the kigo are placed in EARLY SUMMER, some in MID-SUMMER.

tango 端午 (たんご) Tango festival
Seasonal festival in the fifth lunar month
gogatsu no sekku 五月の節句(ごがつのせっく)
seasonal festival of the iris, shoobu no sekku

CLICK for more photos

Tango no sekku is a traditional Japanese event observed on May 5th as a celebration for boys' talisman and health. Families including boys observe it, displaying yoroikabuto (an armor), gogatsuninngyou (dolls for the Boys' Festival), or koinobori (carp-shaped streamers). Although this tradition has continued to this day, after World War May 5th started to be called "children's day". It is observed as a holiday recognizing children's (boys and girls) happiness.

Tango no sekku was originally a custom brought from ancient China. In China, May has long been regarded as a month of evil spirits. So events for driving them away were widespread in May. At first, this special day was not always on May 5th, but eventually it settled on the day. As for Japan, during the Nara period (710-794) five seasonal events (jinjitsu, joushi, tanogo, tanabata, chouyou) were introduced. At that time, the five seasonal events were observed by aristocrats as important events to ward off one's own sins during the turning point of each season. And then, they spread to the samurai (warrior) families. During the Edo period, since the feudal government designated May 5th as an important day, it also became popular among common people, and it came to be observed widely in Japan.

Read more here:
source : www.jpn-miyabi.com


Related kigo:

Seasonal festival in May, gogatsu no sekku
gogatsu no setchi-e 五日の節会 (いつかのせちえ)
ritual at the Imperial court

seasonal festival of the iris, shoobu no sekku
ayame no sechi-e 菖蒲の節会(あやめのせちえ)
ayame no makura 菖蒲の枕 (あやめのまくら) "iris pillow"
at the imperial court, iris were put into the pillow to ward off evil influence.

"double five", fifth month fifth day, choogo 重五(ちょうご)
day of the iris, ayame no hi 菖蒲の日(あやめのひ)

first seasonal festival, hatsu sekku

First for a boy just born the year before.

The long leaves of the iris (shoobu)
reminded the samurai of their swords.
The word SHOOBU 勝負 also means a fight,
usually to the death.

The iris flower is seen in present-day July, and many related kigo are placed in "mid-summer", see below.

The flower Iris and Haiku


musha ningyoo 武者人形 むしゃにんぎょう warriour dolls
kabuto ningyoo かぶと人形(かぶとにんぎょう)dolls with helmets
gogatsu ningyoo 五月人形(ごがつにんぎょう)"May Dolls"

ayame ningyoo あやめ人形(あやめにんぎょう)iris dolls
..... shoobu ningyoo 菖蒲人形 (しょうぶにんぎょう)

bugu kazaru 武具飾る(ぶぐかざる)
decorating the warriou's armour

These dolls and warriour helmets are decorated for the Boys Festival. They are a precious family treasure, often given by the grandparents when a boy is born.

. Musha ningyoo 武者人形 Samurai Dolls .

. Dolls and Haiku .


Carp Streamers (koinobori 鯉幟 (こいのぼり)
. . . . . and
chimaki 茅巻(ちまき)Chimaki ritual rice cakes

. Medicine and May the Fifth
kusudama 薬玉 (くすだま) "medicine ball"
choomeiru, choomei ru 長命縷(ちょうめいる)/ 続命縷(しょくめいる)
"threads of long life"
"water of God", shinzui, shinsui
神水 (しんずい, しんすい)


observance kigo for mid-summer

The long leaves of the iris (shoobu) reminded the samurai of their swords.
The word SHOOBU 勝負 also means a fight, usually to the death.

kigo related to SHOOBU

. shoobu ningyoo 菖蒲人形 (しょうぶにんぎょう)
Iris dolls .

... hojin 蒲人(ほじん)

gaijin 艾人(がいじん)"mugwort dolls"
Yomogi mugwort (and ayame iris) were known to ward off evil and protect from disease, and placed at the gate of homes for protection.

shoobu hiku 菖蒲引く (しょうぶひく)
pulling out iris (to make the iris dolls)
..... ayame hiku あやめ引く(あやめひく)
shoobu karu 菖蒲刈る(しょうぶかる)cutting iris

Street vendors of Edo
source : bastille
shoobu uri 菖蒲売(しょうぶうり)vendor of cut iris

shoobu fuku 菖蒲葺く (しょうぶふく) thatching with iris

..... shoobu sasu 菖蒲挿す(しょうぶさす)sticking up iris decorations
..... noki shoobu 軒菖蒲(のきしょうぶ)shoobu under the eaves
..... yomogi fuku 蓬葺く(よもぎふく)thatching with mugwort
..... ouchi fuku 樗葺く(おうちふく)thatching with chinaberry
ouchi (Melia azedarach) is an old name for sendan, chinaberry 栴檀

To thatch the eaves or hang up protective plants under the eaves has been a custom since the Heian period, done on the night before the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. It later spread among the samurai and then townspeople. Adding mugwort or chinaberries or wild water oats (makomo) is especially effective in warding off the diseases of the coming summer.

. shoobuyu, shoobu-yu 菖蒲湯 (しょうぶゆ) "iris bath"  
..... shoobuburo 菖蒲風呂(しょうぶぶろ) rantoo、蘭湯(らんとう)

source : ningyodo.library
shoobugatana, shoobu gatana 菖蒲刀 (しょうぶがたな) "iris sword"
a small wooden sword for boys to war on the festival day.
Sometimes leaves of the iris flower were used.
shoobu dachi 菖蒲太刀(しょうぶだち)big iris sword
...... ayame katana あやめ刀(あやめがたな)
shoobu kabuto 菖蒲冑(しょうぶかぶと)armour with iris
shoobu hachimaki 菖蒲鉢巻(しょうぶはちまき)headband from iris
kazari kabuto 飾り冑(かざりかぶと)decorating armour
ayame no katabira 菖蒲の帷子(あやめのかたびら)hat with iris
ayame no yukata 菖蒲浴衣(あやめゆかた)yukata robe with iris
. . . CLICK here for Photos !

shoobu uchi 菖蒲打 (しょうぶうち) hitting with iris
..... shoobu tataki 菖蒲敲き(しょうぶたたき)
shoobu nawa 菖蒲縄(しょうぶなわ)iris rope

A game for children on the festival day. The leaves of iris are woven to a rope which is then hit on the ground. The boy who produces the loudest sound wins the bout. This is also done to prevent evil influence and disease to befall the children.

shoobu no ne-awase 菖蒲の根合 (あやめのねあわせ)
iris root match
..... ayame awase 菖蒲合せ(あやめあわせ)
ne awase 根合(ねあわせ)root match
..... ayame no ura 菖蒲の占 (あやめのうら)
A game enjoyed by the aristocracy since the Heian period. The person with the longest and thickest roots of an iris is the winner. During the ceremony poetry was recited, sometimes with two groups rivalling for the win.
. . . . . also
hyakusoo o tatakawasu 百草を闘わす (ひゃくそうをたたかわす)
match of 100 plants
kusa awase 草合せ(くさあわせ)
toosoo 闘草(とうそう)


inji uchi 印地打 (いんじうち) throwing stones at each other
inji いんじ stone slinging
ayame inji 菖蒲印地(あやめいんじ)throwing iris at each other
inji kiri 印地切(いんじきり)
ishiuchi, ishi-uchi 石打ち(いしうち)

Children made two groups down by the riverbank (the Kamo river in Kyoto) and started throwing small stones at each other in a mock battle, sometimes iris flowers in some kind of exorcism ritual.
It was also performed at the Heian court, but grown-ups got really serious and hurt each other, so it was ablished soon.


kezurikake no kabuto 削掛の甲 (けずりかけのかぶと)

armour decorated with shavings
..... kezuri kabuto けずり甲(けずりかぶと)
The shavings from willow branches are added to the armour of the warriour decoration.
They are supposed to ward off evil


muika no ayame 六日の菖蒲 (むいかのあやめ)
iris on May 6

..... muika soobu 六日そうぶ(むいかそうぶ)
Iris on the morning of the day after May 5 had been soaked in dew, the "water of gods" (神水), and these flowers were especially powerful to protect the humans from evil influence.

ouchi o obu 樗を佩ぶ (おうちをおぶ) wearing chinaberries
yomogi o abu 艾を佩ぶ(よもぎをおぶ)wearing mugwort
..... 蓬を佩ぶ(よもぎをおぶ)
ouchi (Melia azedarach) is an old name for sendan, chinaberry 栴檀
These auspicious plants were not only put on roofs and under the eaves, they were also word around the waist to protect the people.

tooinfu, too-in fu 桃引符 (とういんふ) "preach board"
A board made from peach wood with an inscription to ward off evil influence. It was hung up ath the entrance to a home.


kigo for mid-summer

fukuro no atsumono 梟の羹 (ふくろうのあつもの)
"hot soup with owl meat"

..... fukuro no aburimono 梟の灸(ふくろうのあぶりもの)
There is an old Chinese saying, that when an owl grows up, it will eventually eat the mother bird and then fly off. The owl was disliked because of this behaviour and in some area an owl was nailed to a tree to die on the day of the summer equinox.
This is a symbol for unfilial behaviour.
In China, on May 5, the meat of an owl was put into hot soup and given to the young boys. In Japan this kind of soup was also given to warriours in a battle.
The owl is also called "bird that eats its mother" 母食鳥.(hahakuidori).

. Qwl (fukuro, fukuroo, fukurō 梟


shinkiku seisu 神麯製す (しんきくせいす)
making shinkiku rice cakes

This is a Chinese custom, making them on the 5th day of the 5th month or the 6th day of the 6th month or the "sanpuku days".
They are made from rice yeast (kome kooji, kiku 麯), wheat flour, liquid from a special plant of the chrysanthemum family, which has leaves looking like carrot leaves (kawara ninjin 河原人参).
This mix is supposed to bring good health in the hot summer months.
They are also called shingiku しんぎく。

. sanpuku 三伏 (さんぷく) three hottest ka-no-e "metal" days of summer

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

. Kato Kiyomasa 加藤清正 .

This famous samurai from Kumamoto was often decorated in paintings or as dolls during the Boy's Festival.


. WKD : Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 .

sore de koso furuki yûbe zo fuki ayame

the perfect thing
for an old-time evening...
thatch of irises

naki-soo na mushi no are-are fuki ayame

an insect singing?
look! look!
thatch of irises

Tr. David Lanoue


ayame-gusa su ni hikitagaru suzume kana

sparrow's determined
to pull a sweet flag
to its nest

Tr. Chris Drake

This is hokku is from the 4th month (May) of 1811, when Issa was in the area just east of Edo, a week or two before the Tango or children's day festival on 5/4 and 5/5. The plant the sparrow is trying to pull to its nest is a sweet flag, also called calamus. Its long, bright green leaves resemble iris leaves, causing the plants to be easily confused, although sweet flag flowers are much more modest than iris flowers. In fact, in modern Japanese ayame means iris, although in Basho's and Issa's time it meant sweet flag. The leaves of the sweet flag were once consumed in many areas of the world as an herb that was believed to help protect against disease, and in Japan sake with stalks and leaves of sweet flag soaking in it was drunk at the festival. On 5/4 people would take hot baths in water with sweet flag soaking in it in order to increase resistance to the plague and other summer epidemics.

In this hokku it is a sparrow which wants very much to pull a sweet flag to its nest, as if it wished to protect its nest from disease. It might be a small sweet flag that is still growing. On the other hand, Issa may be imagining a scene from 5/5 based on a memory from the past. If so, then the swallow has its nest in the eaves of a house, and now, on 5/4, stalks and leaves of sweet flag have been placed here and there on the edge of the roof so that the plants stick out over the eaves, thus symbolically protecting the house from disease.
Seeing the sweet flag plants, the sparrow tries hard to pull a leaf or the whole plant (or perhaps several plants) to its nearby nest. The plants are not part of the roof but are generally placed on top of the tiles, board shingles, or thatch. In the case of a thatch roof, the stalk might sometimes be stuck into the bottom edge of the straw thatch. A diligent sparrow, however, might be able to move a sweet flag a short distance. Issa seems impressed by the parent bird's energetic efforts to use the herb as part of its nest, as if it could sense the herb's protective powers.

The Japanese government calls 5/5 Children's Day, correctly reflecting Japanese history, although the 5/5 festival is often referred to somewhat incorrectly as the Boy's Festival, a concept that took root within the patriarchal warrior class headed by the shogunate in the 17th-19th centuries. Warrior families displayed life-sized and doll-sized swords and other weapons as well as suits of armor, and the warrior class looked on 5/5 as the day as the day to celebrate future warriors and to hold contests that would display feats of skill by adult warriors. This became the prevailing style in Edo, but in many parts of Japan the festival was a day to fete all children.

The other part of the festival, which began on 5/4, was for adults, especially women, as well as for children. It was the day of purification with sweet flag in many forms, and it was often called "Women's House," since in many areas women were regarded as the owners of the house on 5/4, and men stayed outside while women purified themselves and their houses. In Issa's time the festival took place about a week before the summer solstice and soon before rice planting, so it is believed by many scholars that earlier in history women engaged in many shamanic practices, including singing sacred songs in seclusion from men, in order to protect the village against disease and help the village's rice to grow vigorously. This seclusion and purification period was also the time when women prepared for the rice-planting festivals that would soon take place in the new paddies. In Issa's time shamanism had become less important in village life and was largely a matter of custom, but many people still continued to believe in the power of sweet flag and other herbs to purify and protect themselves and their houses.

Chris Drake

Related words

further kigo for customs and rituals of the fifth lunar month

kigo for mid-summer

***** . gihoo o kaku 儀方を書く (ぎほうをかく)
writing a spell

against mosquitoes and flies

***** . satsuki imi 五月忌 さつきいみ Abstinence in Satsuki  

*****: . yamori o tsuku 守宮を搗く (やもりをつく)
pounding a gecko

***** . Iris, the flower (ayame 菖蒲 shoobu)



Gabi Greve - WKD said...

yoroi 鎧 armour, armor of a samurai
gusoku 具足 armour
..... kogusoku 小具足 smapp pieces of armour equipment (like facemask, forearm sleeves, thigh guards, shin guards, bear-fur boots

Details and haiku

Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...

Matsuo Basho

oi mo tachi mo satsuki ni kazare kaminobori

- - - Station 14 - Sato Shoji, Satoshoji 佐藤庄司 旧跡 - - -

Gabi Greve said...

kashiwamochi 柏餅 sweet rice cakes
for the Japanese boy's festival, wrapped in an oak leaf.

The one's filled with sweat bean paste (anko 餡子) had the green side outside,
the one's filled with sweetened miso paste (misoan 味噌あん) had the inside out, so they could be easily identified from outside by the Edo customers.

Gabi Greve said...

Legend from Fukushima 福島県

gogatsu no sekku 五月の節句 Boy's Festival

For the seasonal Boy's Festival in May you have to eat yam (Dioscorea japonica) and bamboo shoots.
If you do not keep this custom, you will be turned into a 蛆 maggot.

Gabi Greve said...

Legend from Fukuoka 福岡県
久留米市 Kurume

Kappa 河童 The Water Goblin

In Kurume people eat bamboo shoots for the Boy's Festival in May.
They also cook rice with the roots of bamboo and offer this at the shrine 水天宮 Suitengu.
Later this offering is floated down the river. This will make the local Kappe believe the people here are very hard and tough and difficult to chew, so he will not cause any water accidents.