Every year, on November 15, Japan celebrates Shichi-go-san (七五三).
As you can see from the characters, Shichi-go-san literally means Seven-five-three. Curious to know what happens on this day? Keep reading!
What is Shichi-go-san?
It is a celebration of children’s growth and health and is celebrated by children at the ages of 3, 5 and 7.
In the old days, there were many children who passed away when they were young, so there were many kinds of events celebrating children’s growth and praying for their well being, Shichi-go-san being one of them.
Significance of the numbers seven, five and three
The reasons why it is these three ages are given below:
Three years old: Kamioki-no-gi (髪置の義)
Kami (髪) means hair and oki (置) means to keep or put. Both boys and girls celebrate this at age 3.
In the olden days, it was customary to cut one’s hair to make it stronger. This meant that children under age three were not allowed to grow their hair. From the age of three, children can let their hair grow!
Five years old: Hakama-no-gi (袴着の儀)
Only five year old boys celebrate this. When wearing kimono was commonplace, boys would start wearing the hakama and those boys from a samurai family would wear a haori (jacket) over the hakama. This signifies that the boys have started their journey into adulthood.
Seven years old: Obitoki-no-gi (帯解の義)
Only seven-year old girls celebrate on this day (not boys). From age seven, girls begin using an obi to keep their kimono tied together. Before age seven, they would use a simple cord and Obitoki literally means “figuring out the obi.” This signifies that the girls have started their journey into womanhood.
In general, Shichi-go-san is a celebration that both boys and girls enjoy twice. You will see many families dressed to perfection in traditional attire and heading to temples, shrines as well as photo studios.
A custom of giving candy started in the Edo period: this was called chitose ame (red and white candy).
Chitose written in kanji is 千歳 (1,000 years old), basically the candy is presented as wish for a long life.
The sweets come in seven, five or three and the packaging usually has good luck signs such as images of turtles and cranes as well as the word “kotobuki” meaning congratulations and long life.
You will see children carrying bags of chitose ame in shrine precincts!
A great photo opportunity, several weeks before and after November 15, you will see kids dressed up in beautiful kimono.
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