A-Z of Japan: K is for…

There are so many things that K could be for in my A-Z of Japan. Perhaps karate (空手), karaoke (カラオケ), kimono (着物) or kabuki (歌舞伎)? Kamakura (鎌倉市), Kyoto (京都), or Kanazawa (金沢市)? I was tempted to write about kawaii culture, but Emily over at My Kawaii Space does that better than I ever could (Do check out her Hello Kitty competition, by the way!). So, in the end, I decided…

K is for… koi!


Koi (鯉), or “nishikigoi” (錦鯉), are “ornamental varieties of domesticated common carp” (Wikipedia). You can often find them in Japan when you visit castles, Japanese gardens, or sometimes even temples and shrines. They are also sold as pets.

Koi varieties are distinguished by coloration, patterning, and scalation. Some of the major colors are white, black, red, yellow, blue, and cream. The most popular category of koi is the Gosanke, which is made up of the Kohaku, Taisho Sanshoku, and Showa Sanshoku varieties”. (Wikipedia)

Carp, Shirotori Garden, 13th August 2008

Koi are very popular in Japan, and are one of the symbols of Japan that you will often see on souvenirs. But what’s so special about these colourful fish?

Well, koi are generally thought to be a symbol of perseverance in adversity. Because koi swim upstream, they show strength, the ability to overcome challenges, and the courage to attain high goals. They are also seen as a symbol of good luck.

Coi Carp, Tokugawa Art Museum, 28th April 2008

In particular, koi represent male strength. Koinobori, colourful carp streamers, are flown around the time of Children’s Day in Japan. Children’s Day was originally called Boy’s Day, and these carp streamers are hung outside houses to celebrate the sons of the household. The carp streamers symbolise the parents hope that their sons will grow up to be brave and strong, like koi.

Carp flags

Back in April, when I was in Tokyo, I saw a lot of carp streamers flying by Tokyo Tower. They were part of the “Ganbaru Nihon” event. Even though the streamers usually represent boys’ strength, in this case I think they were being used to remind all of Japan to be strong and persevere in adversity.


Carp flags

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