Exploring Art in Children’s Festivals


I grew up looking at a large carp banner hung high above the couch in my grandma’s living room. It was always the large blue fish on the wall that my brother and I would beg my grandmother to take down so we could see it “swim” in the wind. It wasn’t until my grandma passed away that the carp banner became a prized family piece of art to me. This project is an opportunity for me to symbolize an essential part of my childhood and buy homage to grandma who inspired my love of art history. Although the carp banner is no longer in my family, it reminds me of a childhood joy that I wanted to capture in this exhibit. 

Carp banners are traditionally flown on the 5th of May to celebrate Children’s Day. The struggle of the carp as it swims upstream and its eventual triumph represents the inner strength children are capable of as they grow into adulthood. Children’s Day was originally called Boy’s Day and celebrated the journey of young boys as they train to become Samurai. Boy’s Day became Children’s Day in the 1950s in an effort to recognize both male and female children. Girl’s Day on March 3rd is widely considered the counterpart to Boy’s Day. It was important to me to include Girl’s Day in my exhibition because of the inherently patriarchal roots of Children’s Day. I include art that was specifically made to celebrate women and girls. Focusing on these two holidays and how they manifest in Japanese art is an important way of understanding the significance behind my chosen pieces. In addition, I am focusing on the cultural values of childhood in Japan as well as coming-of-age rituals. I look at how people, children, in particular, interact with objects on both holidays and how that is manifested in woodblock prints. By doing this, I hope to show the physical relationship between objects and viewers during these festivals as well as the embodiment of childhood in each case. 

Title: Set of Dolls

Creator: Unknown

Period: Early 20th Century 

Date: Unknown

Culture: Japan

Medium: Fabric, clay/porcelain, wood, and lacquer 

Dimensions: Height was approximately 4 inches 

Repository: Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, CT

Photo Taken by Alice Bates, October 28th, 2021

Description: These dolls are an example of some of the dolls one might encounter at a Girl’s Day celebration. It is hard to say the exact function of each of these dolls but the two on the top shelf could be musicians because one holds a drum and the other an object with, a different object. Many sets of dolls for Girl’s Day include the emperor, empress, and court entertainment. These two dolls are seated on ornately decorated boxes that have matching floral motifs. Both are wearing red: the doll on the left has red accents on their kimono and the other doll’s sleeves are an orange-red color. The figure below then is seated on two boxes with a simple floral design. Perhaps they are part of the court of the royal figures. Their kimono also has a red lining around the sleeves that stands out against the black robe. These dolls have lively expressions on their faces which indicate the joy and excitement associated with Girl’s Day.

Women in front of Girls' Festival (Hinamatsuri) dolls - Artist: Kitagawa  Utamaro — Google Arts & Culture

Title: Women in Front of Girls’ Festival (Hinamatsuri) Dolls

Creator: Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806)

Period: Edo 

Date: Mid 18th- early 19th century

Culture: Japan

Medium: Woodblock print; ink and color on paper

Dimensions: H x W: 39.2 x 25.5 cm 

Repository: Arthur M, Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC

Credit Line: Bequest of Charles H.W Verbeck

ID Number: S2010.18.89

Description: Three women converse outside of a Girl’s Day celebration. The woman in the pink kimono is kneeling in front of boxes of fresh food. The two other women bring in trays of tea which represent respect and harmony for the girls and their families participating in the festival.  In the background, dolls are placed in the traditional hierarchical structure of Japanese society with the emperor and empress at the top. The dolls are depicted as very large which gives the sense that they are watching over the viewers. The background of the print is a vibrant red color that makes the pale faces of the women and dolls stand out. The use of color in this print indicates wellbeing for the participants of Girl’s Day as they grow into adults; red is an important symbol in Japanese culture because it represents prosperity for families whereas yellow is considered a sacred color often associated with temples and shrines

Title: Carp Banner

Creator: Unknown 

Date: 1970s 

Culture: Japan

Medium: Cotton/linen and dye 

Dimensions: Approximately 7 x 3 ft 

Property: Former Property of Joan and Arnold Bank

Photo Taken in Approximately 2019 by Margery Bates

Description: This is the carp banner in my grandmother’s living room that inspired my project because it is similar to a windsock that would be flown on Children’s Day. It was very large (longer than the pictured couch) and a vibrant blue. Each scale had a range of light and dark blues to accentuate the muscular body of the fish. Small lines of yellow are incorporated into the head, focusing specifically on the eyes. This illuminates the facial features of the carp. These hints of yellow could signify the sanctity of Children’s Day because of the color’s association with places of worship.

Title: Carp Steamer (perhaps a typo on the website- meant to be streamer?)

Creator: Takeuchi Keishū, publisher: Hakubunkan

Period: Showa era (1926-1989)

Date: 1908

Culture: Japan

Medium: Woodblock print; ink and color on paper

Dimensions: H x W (closed): 31 x 21.6 cm

Repository: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC

Credit Line: Robert O. Muller Collection

ID Number: S2003.8.3752.23

Description: A mother carries a young child on her back as a carp windsock dances in front of them. It obscures most of the boy’s face and shows the elegant side profile of his mother as well as her kind eyes. The carp is a bold sand color that stands in contrast to the cool tones of the kimonos of both the mother and child. Its scales appear three-dimensional because of the depth of line variety that animates each one. The mother’s robe is an elegant blue-gray color with simple lines and is accented by a light blue belt containing a vibrant red stripe. The boy’s clothing is a vibrant pattern of green and red swirls set against a blue background that gives the feeling of childhood. This print emphasizes the relationship between mother and child; she is seen protecting her child while also celebrating him with the koi motif. There is a sense of love and playfulness as the two interact with the carp windsock and each other.

Title: Carp Banner on Boys Day in May

Creator: Eliichi Kotozuka

Period: Showa Era (1926-1989)

Date: 1950s

Culture: Japan

Medium: Woodblock print; ink and color on paper

Dimensions: Approximately 30 x 20 cm  

Repository: Shain Library Collection of Japanese Woodcuts, Connecticut College, New London

Credit Line: Gift of Professor Black, Botany Department, Connecticut College

Description: Three carp windsocks fly over a calm neighborhood street in the bright light of midday. They appear to be attached to several poles protruding from the backyard of an elegant white house. Two of the windsocks are a chocolate brown color with red accents; the lower of the two has a small figure riding on its back whose facial expression is curious. The middle windsock is bright orange and seems to be smaller than the other two signifying the many children welcome during Children’s Day celebrations. Two children stop in the street to watch the fish “swim” in the air; one even gets off his scooter to watch the koi fly. Their faces are turned upwards toward the carp in awe. Their expressions signify the feeling of elation that comes with Children’s Day each year. 



Eicher, Diane. “Celebrate Girls Day Festival Offers Japanese.” The Denver Post, 2000.

Ford, Barbara Brennan. “The Art of Japan”. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1987.

“Girls’ Day in Japan – Hinamatsuri Explained.” Go! Go! Nihon, 8 May 2020, https://gogonihon.com/en/blog/hinamatsuri-girls-day-in-japan/#:~:text=The%20celebration%20of%20Girls’%20Day,to%20ward%20off%20evil%20spirits.

Halloran, Richard. “2 Eras Mesh on Japanese Children’s Day: Banners of Carp.” New York Times, 1973.

Louie, Elaine. “For Children’s Day, Sweets, of Course.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 May 1991, https://www.nytimes.com/1991/05/01/garden/for-children-s-day-sweets-of-course.html  

“Playthings of the Past.” Lyman Allyn Art Museum, http://“Playthings of the Past.” Lyman Allyn Art Museum, https://www.lymanallyn.org/playthings-of-the-past/

Reitman, Valerie. “For a Nation’s Daughters, Little Figures With Big Meaning and Cost Series: Japan: Artisans and Traditions. first in an occasional series: [Home Edition].” Los Angeles Times, Mar 01, 2001, pp. E1. ProQuest, https://login.peach.conncoll.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/nations-daughters-little-figures-with-big-meaning/docview/421756968/se-2?accountid=10255.


“Carp Steamer.” Freer Gallery of Art & Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1 Oct. 2021, https://asia.si.edu/object/S2003.8.3752.23

“Connecticut College Asian Art Collection.” Connecticut College Asian Art Collections,
http://“Connecticut College Asian Art Collection.” Connecticut College Asian Art Collections, https://oak.conncoll.edu/visual/asian-art/shain-woodcuts/content/shain035_large.html

“Women in Front of Girls’ Festival (Hinamatsuri) Dolls.” Freer Gallery of Art & Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 10 Apr. 2021, https://asia.si.edu/object/S2010.18.89/

Author: Alice Bates

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