Toyohara Chikanobu, Tango – Boy’s Day Festival (May 5), 1885


Toyohara Chikanobu (1838 – 1912)

Tango – Boy’s Day Festival (May 5), 1885

Color woodblock print, oban triptych

In this print, Toyohara Chinkanobu (1838–1912) looks back to the Edo Period (1603–1868) to depict Tango no Sekku or “Boy’s Festival,” one of the five annual ceremonies. The festival is the Japanese version of a Chinese traditional holiday that is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month. When Japan switched from a lunar calendar to the Gregorian calendar the holiday was then observed on May 5.

Tango no Sekku marks the beginning of summer and on this day iris and Artemisia leaves are hung in doorways to protect homes from evil spirits. People also eat rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves. The parents of boys display ancient armor, seen on the right in Chikanobu’s print, and fly paper carps on the roofs of houses, indicating how many children live there. A black carp represents boys, as seen in the upper right, while a smaller red carp symbolizes girls used on March 3 for Hinamatsuri or “Girls’ Festival.” Below the paper carp, a group of young boys are being supervised in ritual combat while off to the side on a banner is a representation of the mythological figure Shoki defeating a demon.

By the late 1880s, Chikanobu and many others were anxious and dismayed by the rapid changes they were experiencing in Tokyo. Feeling nostalgic for the familiar world of the shogun, Chikanobu throughout the 1890s produced a variety of single, diptych and triptych prints that took as their subject matter the “traditional” aspects of Japanese culture that he believed were being forgotten with industrialization.


Frédéric, Louis. Japan Encyclopedia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.





Posted on

November 29, 2018