Friday, May 05, 2006

Feast of the Iris

The iris is the original symbol of Boys' Day in Japan. This festival celebrates the hopes and ambitions that all Japanese families have for their male children. The imagery and symbols of this day are masculine in nature and are intended to insure that the boys in the family grow up with a 'fighting spirit' and are strong and wise. This festival is called "Tango-no-Sekku" and in ancient Japanese was known as the "Feast of the Iris". An online website says: "The word in Japanese for Iris, shobu, is the same as that for success, though the written characters are different. The iris was an important herbal medicine in Japan and the fact that it was also a revered masculine fertility symbol insured that the shobu would be a lasting emblem in Japanese culture. One of the most important therapeutic uses of iris leaves was (and is) in the shobu-ya or iris bath. The leaves are placed in very hot water, usually in quantities enough to cover the surface, than the bather slowly enters the water and soaks there for as long as possible. Even today many people swear that it is an invigorating bath that keeps them warm and healthy long after they have left the water. In the early days of this festival, other activities involving iris leaves also took place. Officials might make wigs out of iris leaves or boys would tie bundles of iris leaves together and hit the ground with them to see who could make the loudest sound. In some homes, iris leaves were placed under the eaves of houses to protect them and their inhabitants.

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