On the third day of the third month, March 3 is the
Girls Festival of Japan. A day that Family heirloom dolls depicting
the emperor and empress and their court are displayed on seven red
carpeted tiers. Girls celebrate by visiting friends and feasting on
sweets. The object of the day is to teach girls to honor the
Emperor and Empress and the art of being a hostess.
Not as well known and written about is the Japanese Boys Festival.
The festival is held on the fifth day of the fifth month, May 5.
The reason and celebration of Boy's Day is very different and has a
completely different reason to celebrate. The Boy's Day was begun by
Samurai Warriors. When the peaceful Edo Period (1615 – 1868) begun in
Japan the need for the Samurai Warrior was no more. The Warriors
loved to display their armor and mementos, but had to occasion to do
so. In order to keep past deeds and glory alive a group of retired
Warriors began a yearly festival in which they displayed their
instruments of war. This festival evolved into the Boy's Festival
The sword, the armor, and the carp are always featured. The sword
reminds the boy of the soul of the Samurai, the armor represents the
spirit of the warrior and the fish represents bravery.
Boy's day begins with two tall bamboo poles in front of the boys home.
On the poles are either a paper or cloth banner depicting the carp..
The banner is made so the wind flows through the fish causing it to
appear to be swimming. The carp is thought to be brave and the
Japanese Boy is taught to be brave.
Another symbol is the Iris plant. During the Heian Period (794- 1151)
the Emperor dedicated the Iris plant to ward off evil spirits and bad
Also in the displays are armor, helmets, and swords placed on dolls
representing Samurai Warriors and mythical, historical heroes of
These dolls are harder to find than the dolls for the girls festival.
So finely made and detailed these antique dolls compare in price to
the antique French and German dolls.
The boy's displays are not as formally arranged as the girls. There
are generally two shelves covered with a green cloth. Some displays
have replicas of armor in the center with the dolls representing the
warriors and heroes on each side. Another arrangement has the dolls
in the center with all the symbolic replicas in the middle. Standards
and banners back the displays and at the back is a curtain, which is a
copy of those, used in the battle camps.
We see in these festivals the use of dolls as teachers and not as
Since World War II Boys Day is now called Children's Day and celebrates all children. The warrior dolls
are still used, but now also are included are streamers of carp ( a kind of fish) that are flown outside the houses and windmills. I love doll history and this is just another example of the uses of dolls in our lives.