Tango (the Boys Festival) (端午)

Tango is one of the seasonal festivals held on the 5th day of the 5th month. It is one of the Gosekku (the five seasonal festivals) and is also called Tango no Sekku (a seasonal festival). Originally it used to be celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month (the old lunar calendar); at present, however, it is held on May 5 of the Gregorian calendar (the new calendar). In a few regions, it is celebrated following the old lunar calendar or on June 5th, one month later.
In Japan, there is a custom of holding variety of events praying for the healthy growth of boys on the day of Tango no sekku, and May 5 is a national holiday, called 'Children's Day.'
Meanwhile, in the Chinese language bloc, generally the sekku is celebrated on the May 5 of the old lunar calendar date. The day is also called Shobu (Japanese iris in Japan) no sekku.

The meaning of Tango.

It is said that in the old lunar calendar, as May is the month of the horse (refer to the item of 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac), and the first horse day of the month was celebrated as the sekku. Later, May 5 was determined as the day for Tango no sekku because May 5 has two of the number "5," which was considered as a good omen. Tan' of 'Tango' meant the edge, in other words 'commencement,' and 'go' of 'Tango' meant a horse. Therefore, the word Tango originally meant the first horse day in the month. Later, since both of the Japanese words for 'horse' and 'five' are pronounced as 'go,' the 5th day of every month was determined to be the horse day.
Especially because the day May 5 consists of two fives, the day came to be called as 'Tango no sekku.'
Just like the above, the days of the odd numbered months on which the month number and the date number are the same (i.e. March 3, July 7 and September 9) are also determined as sekku.
(Refer to the item Sekku)

The customs and their origins.

It is said that the custom of setting this day as the day of tango started in the 3rd Century during Chu dynasty in China. Qu Yuan, an aide of the King of Chu, was a popular politician, but he fell from the position and jumped into the river in despair. The people of Chu who came to know about the incident threw chimaki (a rice dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves) into the river so that the fish would not eat the dead body of Qu Yuan. It is said that this is the origin of people using chimaki as altarage for tango no sekku.

In China, that day was the day to purge noxious vapor and to pray for people's health, and there were customs where people went out to fields and picked herbs, decorated dolls made of mugwort and drank wine made of sweet grass. It was thought that mugwort and sweet grass could purge noxious vapors. Even in today's Japan, the customs remain where a bundle of Japanese iris and mugwort are hung under the eaves and people take a Shobuyu (bath in which bundles of Japanese iris are floating).

In Japan, there was a ritual called Satsukiimi (literally, accursed May) where all the men went out of the house and only women stayed inside to lustrate the impurities and purify themselves before rice planting. This custom was connected to tango which came from China. It means that tango was originally a sekku for women. In the Imperial Palace, people wearing a Japanese iris in their hair got together at the Butokuden (a palace building) and were granted a Kusudama (literally, ball of medicine made of conglobed herbs and a decoration was added) by the emperor. In the society of court nobles in ancient times, there was also a custom to exchange Kusudama gifts with one another. A record from the Nara period already had a description about these events in the imperial court.

Because the word for Japanese iris was pronounced same as the word for martial spirit (both were pronounced "shobu") and also the shape of leaves of Japanese iris remind people of swords, tango was determined as the sekku for boys and people prayed for the healthy growth of boys. The typical way to celebrate tango no sekku is to display armor, helmet, sword, doll warrior, or gogatsu-ningyo dolls (literally, dolls of May) modeled after Kintaro (a famous brave boy in a nursery tale) in a tiered stand in a room, and to fly Koinobori (carp streamers) are flown on a pole in the front yard. Displaying armor implies protecting the safety of boys.
The custom of displaying koinobori is originated from the Chinese tradition and it is to pray for the success in life of boys (also refer to the item, koinobori.)
Typical koinobori is made of a five-color fukinagashi (a tubular streamer) and three (or more) carp streamers. The number of colors of the streamer is derived from gogyo-setsu (the theory of five elements).

There is also a custom to eat chimaki and Kashiwamochi (a rice cake which contains bean jam and is wrapped in an oak leaf) on tango no sekku day. It is said that the custom to eat chimaki on that day is originated from the fact that the patriot poet Qu Yuan of the Chu dynasty in the Warring states period (China) died on May 5 and people who loved and respected him threw chimaki into the Miluo river where he jumped into, in order to calm down his soul and as bait for fish so the fish would not eat his body. The custom to eat kashiwamochi on that day is unique to Japan.
It spread as a bringer of good luck because kashiwa (oak) leaves never fall before new burgeons have roots in the tree, and that inspired the idea that 'family line never fails.'
In the Chinese language bloc, even today people still take part in row boat races (ryusen or dragon boats) as Dragon Boat Festival that was associated with the fact that people took to the water in boats trying save Qu Yuan. The custom of displaying a bundle of yomogi or mugwort (in Chinese, ai or ai-hao) at the gateway of a house as an amulet is also widely carried out.

Also, for a family that has a baby boy, May 5 is the baby's 'first sekku,' thus it is common that the day is celebrated by all the member of the clan. As May 5 is a national holiday and in the middle of the Golden Week holidays (early-May holiday season in Japan), the day is usually celebrated by members of the clan more so than the Dolls' Festival (March 3, a sekku for girls).

Related topics

In November 2005, the Republic of Korea asserted that the 'tango no sekku' that has continued for nearly 2,000 years in the Chinese language bloc has an origin in their country. They re-named tango no sekku as 'The Gangneung Danoje Festival' and applied to list this festival as the country's Intangible Cultural Heritage with UNESCO, and it has been registered. Upon hearing about this registration, many organizations such as the mass communication media in the People's Republic of China, where the real origin is, have protested vehemently.
(please refer to the Korean origin theory.)