Koinobori (the Kite Fish): Make It, Tell it to the Little Ones

Every year in Japan, “ Golden Week ” takes place. This is one of the most important events on the Japanese calendar.

It consists of a week-long celebration, as well as four national holidays meant to reflect Japanese history. During these festivities, many residents of the Archipelago take to the road and come together to celebrate Golden Week with their families.

In this article, you will discover the different holidays linked to this oh-so-special week, with a focus on Children's Day and its famous lucky carp: the koinobori.

Finally, you will have the chance to discover a tutorial explaining how to make a koinobori (nursery level).

Contents :

Some tips for surviving golden week

National days celebrated during Golden Week

Kodomo No Hi (or Children's Day)

The koinobori kite: an astonishing Japanese lucky charm

The legend of koinobori: a breathtaking fish

But actually, why a carp?

And why a kite?

How to make koinobori (nursery level)


Golden lanterns hung for a Japanese folk festival

Some tips for surviving golden week

If you plan to visit Japan during Golden Week, there are a few things to consider:

  • Many businesses will be closed, including restaurants and food stores. So, if you haven't made your arrangements and are looking for somewhere to dine, be prepared to find yourself in huge queues !
  • Since people like to travel during this week, roads, train stations and airports are often very congested. So, you can also expect delays at this level, especially in big cities like Tokyo, Osaka or Nagoya.
  • Despite a general slowdown in trade, difficulties in getting around and sometimes annoying crowds, everyone generally has a good time, and the golden week is most often synonymous with joy and even happiness.

Three Japanese lucky charms: a Maneki Neko figurine, omamoris and a daruma doll

The magical power of Japan

by these ancestral Japanese lucky charms


National days celebrated during Golden Week

April 29: Emperor Hirohito's birthday

The goal of this party is simple.

It is about remembering Japan's tumultuous past during the 63-year reign of Emperor Hirohito, as well as the difficulties the country faced during this period.

Emperor Hirohito actually died in 1989

Rather than using this day to honor the emperor, many people choose to reflect on Japan's (especially political) past.

Until 2006, the Green Festival, or Midori no hi, (which is now celebrated on May 4) was celebrated on this day.

Many people consider April 29 to be the day dedicated to ecology. Many Japanese are therefore marking the occasion by planting trees and participating in the few events that are organized for the occasion.

May 3: Constitution Memorial Day

Written in 1947, the Constitution holds a central place in the hearts of millions of Japanese people.

Given the title, you guessed it: this event is celebrated on May 3.

It is therefore for the Japanese to use this day to reflect on democracy and the benefits which followed the proclamation of the post-war constitution.

May 4: The green festival

After 2006, the Green Festival was moved to May 4.

This event is dedicated to the environment and the preservation of the exceptional nature present in Japan.

During this period, the Japanese try to be more in tune with the elements and thank mother earth for the blessings she has bestowed on their country.

Some people say that this day also indirectly celebrates Emperor Akihito who, for the record, was a great lover of plants and botany.

Previously, May 4 was not a public holiday, but this has changed since the introduction in Japan of a law that is surprising to say the least.

It actually stipulates that a day placed between two national holidays must also become a public holiday.

This is the type of law we would like to see happen here, right?

May 5: Children's Day

We will finally be able to tell you about koinobori, the famous kite fish which undoubtedly justified your curiosity for this article.

Children's Day in Japan is celebrated on May 5.

This is arguably the biggest festival celebrated in the entire Golden Week.

Roughly speaking, this day celebrates the birth of children, their individualization and their happiness in general.

In a Japan in the midst of a birth crisis, we easily understand the importance that Children's Day can have...

Before 1948, this day was known as “Boys’ Day.”

Families then prayed for the health and happiness of their son exclusively, and celebrated the day by giving them gifts such as samurai dolls or… koinobori kites.

This type of gift was used to symbolize the strength, power and success that little boys should demonstrate in their lives. The image of samurai is part of Japanese tradition. This is true in manga today. This was true before.

However, in 1948, the government modified this national holiday to celebrate both sexes.

If you want to give this gift to your child (whether a girl or a boy!), you will find what you are looking for with this carefully selected type of koinobori kite.

Handshake symbolizing the union between the two Japanese holidays

Kodomo No Hi (or Children's Day)

Kodomo no Hi (that's what Children's Day is called in Japanese) is a national holiday celebrated in Japan on May 5. This event aims to honor children and celebrate their happiness, while expressing a certain gratitude towards mothers.

We told you: before 1948, this party was reserved for boys... but did you know that there was another party dedicated to girls?

Tango no Sekku (or Boys' Day) was celebrated on May 5, while Hinamatsuri (or Girls' Day) was celebrated on March 3.

In 1948, the Japanese government officially transformed Tango no Sekku into Kodomo no Hi.

The day was publicly described as "a national holiday aimed at celebrating the happiness of all children and expressing the nation's gratitude to mothers."

Several traditions of Tango no Sekku have remained and are still celebrated during Kodomo no Hi.

Making a koinobori to hang this Japanese lucky charm in front of houses is one.

Set of lucky koinobori floating in the sky among hundreds of balloons

The koinobori kite: an astonishing Japanese lucky charm

Japan is fortunate to have been able to preserve its culture throughout the ages, and has even gradually enriched it to make it one of the most interesting in the world.

We have been interested in its history with great interest, and can now offer you a rich collection based on the history of Japan and its lucky charms.

Anyway, back to the topic.

The main symbol associated with Children's Day is the koinobori. This kite carp is actually one of the most emblematic Japanese lucky charms.

If you are lucky enough to visit Japan during the festivities we have mentioned, you will notice many multi-colored flags and fish-shaped kites floating proudly in the air (provided the wind is nice of course).

Whimsical and colorful, they serve to glorify sons, in the hope that they will grow up to be healthy and strong men.

Traditionally, koinobori are classified by color :

  • At the top, a black kite fish represents the authority figure of the father
  • Then, a red symbolizes him, the mother
  • This is followed by koinobori of various sizes and colors, depending on the age of the children in the family.

Koinobori kites are most often made from tissue paper or fabric. Some less prestigious models are made of nylons or plastic materials.

The size of this lucky carp can vary from around ten centimeters to sometimes several meters long. (Yes, some models are truly gigantic.)

A Zen garden with sand, a reiki pendant and tea ceremony materials

Discover Zen and its virtues

with lucky charms and soothing tools


The legend of koinobori: a breathtaking fish

The kite fish is a Japanese lucky charm rich in symbolism.

So here is the legend of koinobori.

There is an old Asian story that says that if a carp swims against the current long enough and succeeds in going upstream, it will eventually turn into a dragon.

This journey represents the journey that the children must all take towards adulthood and the hope of seeing them, just like a koinobori, transform into strong and successful "dragons".

However, you should know that the number of carp undertaking this difficult journey is simply immense. Every year, no fewer than several million fish gather upstream of the Yellow River.

Little by little, everyone gives up in the face of difficulties. A current that's a little too strong, a waterfall that's hard to pass: there are many reasons to give up (or rather your fins, in our case).

Despite everything, a few chosen ones would succeed as best they could in their mission...

The kite fish that floats in the wind during this day symbolizes the journey evoked by the legend of koinobori. Through its refusal to give up, its tenacity and its continuous efforts, the koi carp of the legend is often designated as a model to follow.

Kite fish floating in the air under beautiful sunshine

But actually, why a carp?

Apparently, the lucky carp was chosen as the symbol of Boys' Day because "the Japanese consider it the most fiery fish, so full of energy and power that it can force its way through streams and waterfalls with the most tumultuous flows. With his strength and determination to overcome all obstacles, he represents courage and the ability to achieve high goals. As these are desired traits in boys, families have traditionally flown koinobori kites from their homes to honor their sons. »

Brief timeline of koi carp

As we showed above, the koi carp is associated with a whole bunch of legends from the Asian imagination. Graceful and very colorful, it is undoubtedly the most recognizable fish in the world.

Often associated with Japan, koi is in fact native to Central Asia (more precisely Western China). The species was actually introduced to Japan by foreign invaders.

Anyway, the koi carp got its name around 500 BC, but the fish itself has therefore been around much longer.

Fossils of certain specimens dating back 20 million years have, for example, been found during archaeological excavations.

However, it was at the beginning of the 19th century that Japanese farmers began to raise koi carp for aesthetic reasons, and undoubtedly also religious ones.

We know in fact that the Japanese believe in deities and spirits of nature (called kami in the local language).

If you are interested in the history of carp farming in Japan, here is an article that covers this topic in more depth.

The meaning of this fish in Japan

Generally, koi carp are viewed in a very positive light in Japan.

This is explained, as we have seen, by all the popular tales which have marked the imagination of the inhabitants of the Japanese peninsula, young and old alike.

This fish is synonymous with strength, perseverance in the struggle to achieve one's goals. The image of the solitary koi who manages, against all odds, to reach the upstream of the river, is also a strong image of the concepts of destiny and personal mission.

It is therefore not surprising that the koi carp is associated with one of the most well-known and appreciated figures in Japanese culture: the samurai.

Let us also point out that, depending on their colors, these fish can take on very different meanings:

  • Black : symbol of masculinity, this color is associated with the role of the father
  • Yellow : linked to gold and wealth, yellow is associated with prosperity
  • Blue : color of tranquility, it represents children
  • Red : synonymous with strength and power, red is often associated with the grip of Japanese mothers

Young Japanese boy playing with a kite under a sunset.

And why a kite?

The history of Japanese kites is simply fascinating, and their impact on Japanese popular culture is still felt today.

Historians believe that kites were first introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks from China during the Nara period (in the 8th century CE).

At first, they served as construction tools, gigantic kites helping to lift materials to the roofs.

However, due to the common accidents they caused to workers, they were banned in the 17th century by the famous shogun Tokugawa.

However, kite flying had become an institution in Japan and, over the centuries, many people began to use it as a game.

Not wanting to deprive his people of any fun, the shogun therefore allowed kites to be flown once a year, for the New Year.

The tradition has therefore continued, giving today the more than 130 styles of Japanese kites that we see flying all over the world.

Among the most famous, we can notably cite:

  • the tako, the basic Japanese kite
  • the koinonobi, which we talk about in this article
  • the kakudako, rectangular in shape
  • the rokkaku, hexagonal in shape
  • the yakkodako, a human-shaped kite
  • wadako, made of bamboo stems and Japanese paper
  • the rokkaku dako, a six-sided kite
  • the sode dako, which resembles a traditional Japanese kimono
  • and many others

A dozen koinobori kites made by children

How to make koinobori (nursery level)

Now you know the legend of koinobori.

You also know the role played by this Japanese lucky charm in Japanese culture.

But do you know how to make koinobori?

You will have understood, this kite fish is in fact created from a kind of large streamer painted to look like a carp (with a few extra fantasies, of course).

Obviously, to make a koinobori, there are a few steps to follow. Indeed, it takes a certain amount of aerodynamics for your lucky carp to really fly like a kite.

Follow this guide and you can easily make your own koinobori. You are then free to use it as a toy, as a decoration, or even as a Japanese lucky charm.

Don't worry, as stated in the title, this craft can be done for a child at nursery level.

If you like this type of project, here are some other easy and fun DIYs to make.

Material :

  • White fabric (an old pillowcase will do)
  • Scissors
  • Textile paint
  • Fabric glue
  • Cardboard (e.g. a cereal box)
  • A stapler
  • A hole punch
  • Ribbon
  • A small chain

Instructions :

  1. Cut two pieces of fabric in the shape of a fish (be careful, corners that are too sharp will not let air circulate). Start with a rectangle approximately 50 cm by 40 cm, fold it in half and cut out your two pieces at the same time. You can of course get help from a boss.
  1. Paint one side of the fabric piece with fabric paint. A little tip: start at the eye of the koinobori, then draw scales all around starting from that point.
  1. Once the paint is dry, take one of the pieces of fabric and brush the top and bottom edges of its painted side with glue (do not put glue on the mouth and tail, this will prevent air from passing through).
  2. Next, turn the second piece of fabric over and glue the painted sides together.
  3. Now your kite fish will appear: when the glue is dry, turn the fish over like you would a sock. Your koinobori appears as if by magic!
  1. Cut your cardboard into a strip (about 2.5 cm wide and 30 cm long). Make a circle with your piece of cardboard (without gluing the ends), and slide it into the mouth of your lucky carp. Then adjust it until it fits well with your kite fish. Keep about 2 cm larger than the resulting size, and staple your piece of cardboard to make a circle.
  1. Poke a (small) hole on each side of the koinobori's mouth and tie one end of your string to each.
  2. You can decorate the tail of the fish with ribbon.
  3. When everything is dry, hang your koinobori outside, and admire the kite fish fluttering in the wind!

Three lines filled with Japanese koinobori serving to celebrate Children's Day


If you want to make a koinobori kite yourself, this could be a great idea!

If you prefer to get one... well we have chosen one for you!

You will find it in our collection dedicated to Japan.

Exchanging gifts is a big part of Japanese culture. A multi-colored flag made to wish courage and happiness is a wonderful one. Carp are made to swim in a pond or aquarium. Seeing it floating in the sky of the Land of the Rising Sun makes the eyes of every child who sees it shine.

If a goldfish is a friendly pet, the koinobori might be more fun. The former feed on aquatic plants while the latter fly in the wind. Both have a decorative character, it's true, but only the kite will allow you to practice "kiting" (from the English word for kite flying).

Origami trains patience and appeals to collectors. For a child full of energy, however, this is not the best choice if the goal is to offer a gift that pleases...

In short, all of Japan gives (and receives) gifts during Golden Week, especially on Children's Day.

Giving your child a little something is a wonderful way to show them that we love them and, if this gift also carries a message, it truly becomes an educational tool.

There is no doubt that this Japanese lucky charm will perfectly fulfill these two roles: children will enjoy having fun with the kite, and the legend of the koinobori will offer them a message and a lesson of capital importance.

Lucky charm featured in this article

Koinobori (or Kite Fish)

Koinobori (or Kite Fish)

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author picture(Cyril Gendarme)

Discover the author: Cyril Gendarme

Cyril Gendarme is a writer whose website "The Lucky Door" ("La Porte Du Bonheur" in French, his native language) has become a reference in the field of esotericism. Born in Belgium, Cyril has been attracted to the mysteries of the world since he was a child. When his interest in occultism was awakened, a particular subject caught his attention: lucky charms.

After years of study and in-depth research on esoteric traditions from around the world, Cyril decided to share his knowledge with the public through the internet. In 2019, he launched "The Lucky Door," a website dedicated to exploring lucky charms, magical symbols, and esoteric arts.

The Lucky Door is much more than just a showcase for those curious about magic, divination, or tradition. It is the result of Cyril's passion for researching and understanding the mysteries of the universe. Every piece of information available on the site testifies to his dedication to sharing his knowledge of the most hidden symbols and their unique powers.

In addition to his online work, Cyril regularly organizes workshops and conferences in different countries. His presence on social media is also highly appreciated, where he offers personalized advice and happily answers questions from his community.