Golden Week

The Meaning of the Dolls of May

Japan – week of May 5th

Ancient Traditions and Modern Customs

”Tango no Sekku ” is a small ceremony celebrated during the Golden Week, decorating the house with the dolls of May.

First of all the sacred place is set up in a room of the house, decorated with a carpet of green felt.  On the carpet, people show dolls with medieval armor, typical of the Samurai.  Seems like they protect children from bad luck. Due to it, people of the house offer flowers of iris,  and special sweets called “Kashiwamoci” to the Dolls. Furthermore they pray asking the Dolls to fulfill their wish that children “grow up well and become respectable people”.


Japanese Iris

Of Chinese origin, “Tango no Sekku”, is held on May 5, during the Golden Week. The meaning of the ceremony is linked to the exorcism practiced for the health of the people, at the season change. In Japan, the custom was born in the period preceding Nara era.

At that time, on May 5th, people were used to harvesting some herbs considered as magic, and to pray to ward off bad luck. Most noteworthy,  people believed that iris of Japan, having the leaves in the shape of a sword and the strong smell of a root, had the power to purify from malice. In addition, iris, in Japanese, is called SHOBU, which is the same word used to define the winning and losing in each competition (SHOBU), and the Samurai military philosophy (SHOBU).

Due to that, with the birth and development of Samurai culture, “Tango no Sekku” ceremony became an important annual event.


In Edo era, Samurai’s families celebrated the birth of a male child on May 5 (the celebration of female daughters is held in March during Ina Matsuri) exposing their helmet, armor, and banner, as spiritual symbols of the Samurai. Also they prayed for the healthy growth of their child and the prosperity of the family. Later,  also the common families began that tradition, exposing large hand-made helmets, dolls dressed as Samurai and paper banners.

In the beginning, those large decorative objects were displayed outside the houses in order to be seen by heaven Gods. After the middle of Edo era, people started to decorate the interior of the houses with smaller objects, except for the banner that continued to be large.


The armor and the helmet are very important objects to protect the body in battle and are also treasures that symbolize the traditional Japanese philosophy of the Samurai.

As a result, the male hero doll wearing the armor is like a guardian angel who follows the growth of the male child.

The community expresses the desire that a child overcomes all the ups and downs of life, with energy and obtaining the right success, exposing Koinobori, carp-shaped cloth sleeves that float in the air.


The dolls of May symbolize the positive desire of all the people related to the celebrated child.

It is an expression of sincere love, congratulating on a birth, and praying for the healthy growth and happiness of a new life.

The Golden Week, in Japan, is celebrated with Matsuri and additional traditions, typical of each region and city.