Shichi-Go-San, Japan

Shichi-Go-San, Japan

Shichi-Go-San (Seven-Five-Three) Festival, Japan

 

Celebration Date
15th November
Other Name
Holiday Type
Not National Holiday

 

Shichi-Go-San ("Seven-Five-Three") is a traditional rite of passage and festival day in Japan for three- and seven-year-old girls and three- and five-year-old boys, held annually on November 15 to celebrate the growth and well-being of young children.

As it is not a national holiday, it is generally observed on the nearest weekend.

These ages in particular are celebrated both because the ages of three, five and seven are seen as important markers of stages in a child's growth, and because odd numbers are seen as lucky in Japan.

 

History of Shichi-Go-San

Shichi-Go-San is said to have originated in the Heian period amongst court nobles who would celebrate the passage of their children into middle childhood. The ages 3, 5 and 7 are consistent with East Asian numerology, which holds that odd numbers are lucky. The practice was set to the fifteenth of the month during the Kamakura period. it is also suggested that the idea originated in the Muromachi era when, due to the high infant mortality rate at that time, children were only recognized in their family register after the age of three. From there on in, traditional coming-of-age ceremonies developed for the next two "lucky" numbers: five and seven, and became customary among samurai society in the Edo era and quickly gained popularity, spreading throughout Japan from their birthplace in the Kanto region.

It has also been suggested that because at the time of the origin of the festival bacterial pathology was unknown to the rulers, infant deaths were often blamed on evil spirits, so when the children reached the ages of 3, 5, and 7 the gods were thanked for bringing the children good health. Three-year-old girls wear a kimono with shoulder tucks and no obi, donning a vest called a hifu, while their seven-year-old peers dress in a standard kimono and sash. Boys of five wear hakama and a long haori (jacket) that is decoratively printed.

 

Traditional Candy for Shichi-Go-San

Children don’t only get to dress up in beautiful clothes, they also receive a special type of candy which is only handed out for the “7-5-3 Day”. The custom of giving candy started in the Edo period. The long sticks of stretched sweet candy called chitose ame represented a wish for long life. The sweets come in red and white, notoriously auspicious colors used for celebrations. The children will be given the number of sweets to match their age — three sticks of candy for a three-year-old, and so on. The candy sticks are put inside a plastic bag and usually given to the child by the parents, grandparents or neighbors.

 

Shichi-Go-San Day Celebrations

Most neighborhood shrines will have flags up during November indicating that families can come by for the ceremony, which can either consist of a simple visit to the shrine and some photo taking, or, in increasingly fewer cases, a short ritual performed by a Shinto priest. The three shichi-go-san ceremonies held to celebrate the child's growth are not always carried out anymore. Nowadays they are often replaced by just a visit to the shrine to express gratitude and pray for the child's future. Another modern trend is for parents to take the opportunity to have their child photographed in ceremonial finery, and send the photos out to friends and family. By the Edo period (1603-1867), this practice spread to commoners, who began visiting shrines to have prayers offered by priests. The Shichi-go-san customs followed today evolved in the Meiji era (1868-1912). November 15 was chosen for this celebration because it was considered the most auspicious day of the year, according to the traditional Japanese calendar. Because the date is not a national holiday, most families pay their Shichi-go-san respects on the weekend just prior to or after November 15.

People usually celebrate on a weekend day close to this date. After visiting a shrine dressed in formal attire, the family will visit relatives and neighbors to distribute ‘chitose ame’ (‘thousand years of age candy’). Shichigosan, though now popular among the general public, was originally observed by the samurai and aristocratic classes.

When a child reached the age of three, the family performed a ceremony called kamioki (literally, ‘hair placing’) signifying the transition from infancy to childhood, when the child would be allowed to grow long hair. Boys at the age of five underwent the hakamagi (‘hakama wearing’) ceremony, when they visited the shrine for the first time wearing formal adult clothing. Girls at the age of seven underwent the obitoki (‘obi unfolding’) ceremony, based on the ritual of exchanging their childhood sashes for the wider adult obi.

 

 

 

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