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May 5, Kodomo no Hi all over Japan. Koi-nobori, carp-shaped flags—blue for boys, red for girls—fly on poles or from wires stretched above live koi swimming in ponds and canals.
On day trip with Chieko, I ride the ropeway to Gifu Castle. Winds whistle around the fenced-in lookout. A father rests one hand on his son’s shoulder, points out the moat, the massive gate. Two preschoolers chase each other through an obstacle course of legs, kick up the pink remains of last month’s cherry blossoms. No school excursions on this holiday, no marching in identical yellow or red caps. Princesses and heroes lead their parents by the hand. My friend and I smile, knowing the family ceremonial rooms today display half-sized helmets and swords.
One small girl does not shout or run. Her left eye is swollen shut, her soft cheek bruised. Chieko and I exchange a glance as our smiles fade. A woman, her tired eyes revealing neither anger nor love, herds the girl without touching her.
Returning downhill by stone steps, Chieko and I stop at a refreshment stand for cold green tea. The same mother and child pass by our table. Chieko lowers her gaze as though she, too, has lost face.
Banners in shadow
petals trampled underfoot
stains on the bright day.