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The sales battle among manufacturers of armor-clad samurai dolls for Children's Day on May 5--more traditionally known as the Boys' Festival--peaked in early April, shortly after the vernal equinox.
The holiday has its roots in an ancient Chinese festival in which people used irises to ward off evil. It was introduced to Japan in the Nara period (710-794).
During the Kamakura period (1192-1333), the festival took firm root in the nation's samurai class, as the pronunciation of the word for iris in Japanese, "shobu," is the same as a different word meaning the respect due a samurai warrior. "Shobu" also had a special meaning among the samurai because the …