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Shichi-Go-San – Celebrating A Long and Prosperous Life Ahead

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/18 Traditional Culture , , ,

Last Saturday, November 15, was Shichi-Go-San in Japan. It is a traditional festival celebrating the growth and well-being of young children particularly girls of seven years old, five-year-old boys, and children of three years old, hence the name of the day, Shichi-go-san (七五三 literally means 7-5-3). Because it is not a national holiday, it is generally observed on the nearest weekend. Good thing that this year’s shichi-go-san was on a Saturday.

shichigosan

Image from AC-Illust

To celebrate this day, children are dressed in kimono and visit shrines with their parents and family to attend a Shinto purification ceremony. The ceremony includes praying for a long and happy life and to mark their passage into middle childhood. The ages three, five, and seven are considered auspicious in Japanese/East Asian numerology.

History of the Celebration

The tradition is said to be first observed in Heian Period (794 – 1185 AD) by court nobles. It was in this period that child and infant mortality was high. In Edo Period (1603 – 1868), also known as the samurai era, it is a custom to shave the heads of children at birth. It was kept that way until the child turns three years old. The Shichi-Go-San festival then marked the time where those children could start growing hair. It was referred to as kamioki (髪置き, literally means “putting on hair”). This tradition is not anymore practiced nowadays. Instead, it marks the day that boys and girls make their debut at the local shrine wearing traditional Japanese clothes.

When they are five years old, boys celebrate hakamagi/hakamagi no gi (袴着の義). In this day, the boys, for the first time, officially wear a hakama (袴) or traditional Japanese pants. The girls, on the other hand, celebrate obitoki/obitoki no gi (帯解の義) when they are seven years old. In this day, the girls wear the traditional obi (帯) sash to tie their kimono instead of simple cords.

hakama

Hakama is a traditional Japanese traditionally wore by men. Nowadays, there are also hakama for women. (Photo by blgrssby on Flickr)

obi

The obi is a sash used to tie the kimono. It has many types. This one is the maru obi. It is the most formal type and measures about 68 cm wide. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Into the Modern Times

The celebration spread to commoners during the Edo Period and become more popular in Meiji Period (1868–1912). November 15 was chosen for this celebration because it was considered as the luckiest day of the year according to the Japanese calendar. Some also believed that it is on the 15th because if you add three, five, and seven, it sums up to fifteen. As the tradition becomes modernized, many parents make their children wear Western style suits and dresses when they go to shrines on this day.

shichigosan shrine

Children are brought to the shrine by their parents to take part of the ritual. (Photo by Japanexperterna.se on Flickr)

After their shrine visit, parents buy chitose ame (千歳飴 literally means thousand years candy), also called as the longevity candy, as a present for their children. The candy is shaped like a stick and comes in a bag that carries illustrations of cranes and turtles. The two animals are traditional symbols of long life in Japan. The candy and the bag symbolizes the parents’ wish that their children may have long and prosperous lives ahead.

chitose ameAre you familiar with this Japanese tradition? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!

References:

1. Shichi-go-san Festival, Japan. Notes of Nomads.

2. Shichi-go-san. Web-Japan.

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