Traditions Honor Boys and Girls

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At Tucson’s Japanese Yume Gardens on May 5, the koinobori (carp kites) were flying, the kashiwa mochi (sticky rice cakes filled with red bean paste) were tasted and the kendama (wooden cup and ball toy) were played – all in honor of Kodomo No Hi, the national public holiday in Japan known as Children’s Day.

Japanese artist Fukumi Zapp, also a Tucson Meet Yourself tradition bearer and member of the Yume Gardens staff, explains the rituals of the celebration in this way:

The carp symbolizes strength and long life. The festival originally was a boy’s festival, and most of the games played focus on strength. Although our Girl’s Festival (Hina Matsuri) is still celebrated in March, our public holiday called Children’s Day has been adopted as a way to honor both boys and girls, acknowledging their path to growing up, and to celebrating the good health and future success of all children.

With carp streamers in flight and tables set for display and enjoyment of traditional arts and food, the Yume Garden celebration welcomed more than 100 children and adults. Children were invited to wear samurai hats and to don small yukata, Japan’s traditional cotton summer attire. There was Kingyo Sukui, the traditional game of goldfish scooping, as well as areas inviting children to create miniature Zen gardens or calligraphy, and explore other arts.

Boy creating a miniature Zen garden at the Yume Garden celebration of Children’s Day
Boy creating a miniature Zen garden at the Yume Garden celebration of Children’s Day

Fukumi recalls her Japanese countryside home, where her father flew carp streamers in honor of his children. Sharing her traditions is an important part of Fukumi’s life, since she moved to the United States in 2003. Tucson Meet Yourself – through its October TMY Festival and its more informal gatherings about folklife and material culture called Diggin’ Deeper held this spring – has been an opportunity for Fukumi to share her folklife and her traditional arts with the Tucson community. The Yume Gardens has been another.

Fukumi, in demonstrating the traditional ball and cup game of the kendama, notes that dexterity is an important tool of the game, which she believes was imported from Europe in the 18th century. In sharing the traditional kashiwa mochi sticky sweet dessert at a recent Tucson Meet Yourself Diggin’ Deeper session, Fukumi also explains that traditionally the rice flour cake is wrapped in oak leaves, a symbol of strength.

“Children’s Day is an important tradition and colorful holiday, with all the kites flying in the skies,” Fukumi says. “The games we play, the arts we create and the foods we taste on this holiday have great meaning. In following the traditions all our spirits are strengthened.”

Smithsonian Blog:
Tucson Meet Yourself October 2012 Magazine: page 4, The Artful Joy of Tradition Keepers
Tucson’s Yume Japanese Gardens

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