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Koinobori

Motif Information
Motif koinobori 01.jpg
Rōmaji Koinobori
English Carp streamer
Kanji 鯉幟
Kana こいのぼり
Season Late April to early May
Seasonal Exceptions None
Auspicious Yes
Motif Type Man-made
Pronounciation
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Koinobori are windsocks decorated to look like koi and flown from a pole leading up to Tango no sekku (端午の節句, Boys' Day, May 5th), now known as Kodomo no Hi (こどもの日, Children's Day). Traditionally the largest black koinobori at the top of the pole represented the father, the second red koinobori represented the eldest son, and additional koinobori were added for each additional son. Since the changing of the holiday to Kodomo no Hi in 1948, the second streamer is described as the mother, sometimes colored pink instead of red, and additional streamers represent both sons and daughters.

Koinobori are made by drawing carp patterns on paper or cloth. They are meant to flutter in the wind, imitating a koi swimming upstream. A legend imported from China says koi that succeed in jumping up a waterfall become dragons and koinobori represent that hope for one's children.

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Koinobori flying over Suido Bridge and Surugadai (水道橋駿河臺, Suidobashi Surugadai, 1857) from the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (名所江戸百景) by Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川広重) in the collection of the British Museum


Koinobori are one of the most recognizable decorations for Tango no sekku (端午の節句, Boys' Day), one of the five annual ceremonies (五節句, gosekku) held in the imperial court. Tango no sekku was celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month and today is celebrated on May 5th as Kodomo no Hi (こどもの日, Children's Day).

Motif Connotations & Symbolism

Auspicious Nature

Koinobori are associated with wishes for healthy and successful children.

Common Motif Pairings

Identification & Style Variations

Koinobori are easily identified by their stylized tube shape, open mouth, and attachment to a pole and other streamers.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Koinobori and picture of Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Shoki the Demon-queller by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳) in the collection of the British Museum


Two kabuki fan clubs composed of Edo fishmongers commissioned the surimono at right from Utagawa Kuniyoshi to express their wish that Ichikawa Danjuro VII would be able to return from exile in Osaka to the Edo stage in May 1847. Kuniyoshi has included a black koinobori behind the actor's portrait to reference the time of year, the occupation of the commissioners, and a visit to his father in exile by Danjuro VII's son, Ichikawa Danjuro VIII.

In Poetry

The Showa era poet Takahama Kyoshi's (1874-1959) wrote several haiku about koinobori, most famously:

風吹けば Kaze fukeba When the wind blows
来るや隣の kuru ya tonari no From next door come
鯉幟 koinobori Carp streamers[1]


A popular children's song from 1932, Koinobori (鯉のぼり) by Miyako Kondō (近藤宮子) goes:

屋根より 高い 鯉のぼり yane yori takai koinobori Higher than the roof-tops are the koinobori
大きい 真鯉は お父さん ōkii magoi wa otōsan The large carp is the father
小さい 緋鯉は 子供たち chiisai higoi wa kodomo-tachi The smaller carp are the children
面白そうに 泳いでる omoshirosō ni oyoideru They seem to be having fun swimming [2]

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions

  • Link to any relevant threads on IG

References

  1. Haiku by Takahama Kyoshi. Accessed March 31, 2019. Translation by Tzippurah.
  2. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koinobori Wikipedia article on Koinobori, accessed March 31, 2019.

Image Credits

  • Ainokimono
  • Moonblossom

Authors & Contributors

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