Boys’ Day Banner
Cotton (homespun)
Paste resist, hand painting, dyes, pigments

The fifth day of the fifth month of the old lunar calendar was formerly called Tango no Sekku, or Boy’s Day. Traditionally, the fifth month was thought to be fraught with danger, thus necessitating special countermeasures to ensure safety. At a time when infant mortality was high, medicine primitive, and superstitions common, Boys’ Day banners functioned as a visual prayer to see boys in the family through this particularly difficult time. On Boys’ Day, any homes with male children were easily identified by the banners festooning them.

In Japan, the prawn, whose rounded shape evokes the curved back of the elderly, is a symbol of long and healthy life. The characters for prawn read “old man of the sea”. When the average life span was much shorter than it is today, to live into old age was a rare blessing. The prawn is also lauded for its great vigor, seen here as it thrashes its tail, roiling and splashing water all around it.

Because this is a free-standing banner, it would have been seen from both sides, and therefore had to be decorated and resisted on both front and back.