Japan Society's Children's Day Expands with Peach Boy Theatrics

Hang the koi-nobori (carp streamers) and don your kabuto (samurai helmets): Japan's Children's Day is on its way!

As part of its roster of family festivities marking Japan's major annual holidays, Japan Society presents Japan's Children's Day Festival: Kodomo no hi. This day-long event takes place throughout the Society's landmark building, celebrating Japan's Children's Day through authentic festival-related activities, including making carp streamers and samurai helmets, playing 'paper sumo', and a full production of Japan's classic children's story Momotaro (Peach Boy). Participants can also enjoy traditional festival favorite snacks, such as kashiwa mochi (sweat, sticky rice cakes wrapped in an oak leaf), and chimaki (rice paste wrapped in a bamboo leaf), available for purchase courtesy of BentOn.

Recommended for children ages 3-10 and their accompanying adults, Japan's Children's Day Festival: Kodomo no hi takes place Sunday, May 7, 11:00 am-4:00 pm, at Japan Society. Admission includes entry to the performance at either Noon or at 3:00 pm.

New to the festival this year, a full theatrical production brings to life Japan's endearing, time-honored tale of Momotaro (Peach Boy), a superhuman boy who fights to save his village from an evil oni (ogre) with the help of colorful animal companions, including a monkey, dog and pheasant the he discovers on his journey. Children will delight in interactive songs, dance, Japanese martial arts, and the live music of traditional Japanese drums and flutes. Performed by the Crossing Jamaica Avenue theatrical troupe and directed by Sonoko Kawahara, the production calls upon audience participation as it explores the young warrior's desire to do good through team work, the value of truth, and how compassion to those that are similar and different than oneself raises awareness of the importance of diverse cultural experiences. The play is partially adapted from Momotaro, written by Tadashi Matsui, illustrated by Suekichi Akaba (Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers, Inc., 1965).

Prior to the live performance, children and parents are invited to create their own samurai helmets, carp streamers and double-sided oni masks that serve as props during the performances.

About Kodomo no hi (Children's Day)

Kodomo no hi (Children's Day), also known as Tango no sekku, is held every May 5-the fifth day of the fifth month-in Japan for families to express hope and pray for the health and strength of their sons. The tradition of Tango no sekku stems from ancient times, but after World War II, the celebration began to be called "Children's Day" and is now observed as a national holiday to recognize the happiness of all children, both boys and girls. The event is celebrated by hanging carp streamers (koi-nobori) and displaying samurai dolls and helmets (kabuto), both symbolizing strength, power and success in life. The carp has become the symbol of the festival because it can swim its way up swift-running streams, representing strength and courage to overcome hardships in life.

A custom originally imported from ancient China, Tango no sekku was used to drive away evil sprits in May. Sekku, meaning the end of a season, came to be celebrated as a holiday marking the beginning of a new season. (May 5 was considered to be the beginning of summer, or the rainy season.) During Japan's Nara period (710-794) and later the Heian period (794-1192), this custom was observed among aristocrats to ward off sins during the turning points of the seasons. It later spread to the families of feudal warriors during the Kamakura period (1192-1333) for protection in battle and armor and helmets began to be displayed as celebratory decorations. This festival came to be widely observed among commoners in Edo-period Japan (1600-1867).

Related Program
Children's Day Theater Performance for School Groups
Monday, May 8, 10:00 am & 2:00 pm, at Japan Society

Elementary school groups are invited to join Crossing Jamaica Avenue's innovative and interactive live theater performance of Momotaro (Peach Boy), a classic folktale widely read by children in Japan. Pre-theater session led by Japan Society Education Program staff is an essential part of the program and will be conducted at participating schools prior to May 8. For invited school groups only; this program is not open to the general public or individual students.

New York-based, nonprofit theater company Crossing Jamaica Avenue (CJA) is a multidisciplinary artist collective devoted to infusing cutting-edge contemporary American theater with time-honored Japanese theatrical aesthetics. CJA is led by New York-based playwright and director Sonoko Kawahara, whose productions have been presented at New York Theatre Workshop, HERE, P.S. 122, Women's Project Theater, Music Theatre Group, and La MaMa, E.T.C. Most recently, she directed a performance at Japan Society's 2016 Star Festival: Tanabata for children, as well as the full production DEADLY SHE-WOLF ASSASSIN AT ARMAGEDDON!, which received acclaim from The New York Times and others. She is a Drama League directing fellow and a member of "Usual Suspects" at NYTW, Lincoln Center's Directors Lab, a guest artist at Fordham University, and was a Resident Artist of Mabou Mines. Kawahara received an MFA degree in directing from Columbia University School of the Arts.

Japan Society's Family & Education Program cultivates interest in Japan through a suite of family, school and educators programs. The Program introduces families and children to diverse aspects of Japanese culture by celebrating some of Japan's most important holidays and festivals with hands-on activities, crafts, performances and more. Additionally, the Program offers events for teachers and students, including teacher seminars, educators' study tours, curricula development, school partnerships, and activities for students and school groups.

The Program also provides educational tools and connects classrooms throughout the world. Created in collaboration between Japan Studies specialists, professors of education, K-12 teachers and Japan Society staff, About Japan: A Teacher's Resource is an interactive website with lesson plans, annotated hands-on material for in-class use, maps, reviews and a glossary of key terms. The Japan Society Junior Fellows Leadership Program fosters rising potential leaders in Japan and the U.S. with a lifelong interest in and understanding of both countries through small group exchanges. More at: japansociety.org/education and japansociety.org/family.

Founded in 1907, Japan Society is a multidisciplinary hub for global leaders, artists, scholars, educators, and English and Japanese-speaking audiences. At the Society, more than 100 events each year feature sophisticated, topically relevant presentations of Japanese art and culture and open, critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. An American nonprofit, nonpolitical organization, the Society cultivates a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan.

Japan's Children's Day Festival: Kodomo no hi takes place Sunday, May 7, 11:00 am-4:00 pm, at Japan Society. Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and M subway at Lexington Avenue). Tickets are $18/$10 Japan Society members; ages 2 and under free. Ticket includes festival access and admittance to one theater performance at Noon or 3:00 pm. Tickets may be purchased in person at Japan Society, by visiting www.japansociety.org, or by calling the box office at 212-715-1258. For more information, call 212-832-1155 or visit the website.

Photo credit: George Hirose

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