Children celebrate Shichi-go-san at 3, 5, 7 years old by their family; awarded “thousand year candy” with the desire to live a long and peaceful life.
Shichi-go-san is a festival held every November in all over Japan. Literally meaning “7 5 3”, Shichi-go-san aims to celebrate a child’s healthy growth at certain ages and to pray for lasting peace.
On the occasion of Shichi-go-san, a child dressed in traditional clothing, and with his family visit a local temple, and participate in a Shinto cleansing ceremony – a pure Japanese religion.
Shichi-go-san is usually held for girls aged 3 and 7 and boys at 5 years old. Photo: All About Japan
According to TW, the origin of Shichi-go-san has not been clearly determined. It is quite common that this tradition dates back to the Heian period (794-1185), but is exclusive to royal members and aristocratic families.
It is also suggested that Shichi-go-san was first organized during the Muromachi period (1336-1573). Previously, infant and young child mortality was very high, causing many families to wait until their children were 3-4 years old to add their names to the civil status book. The ceremony shows the gratitude of parents when their children develop healthy.
By the Edo period (1603-1868), the tradition spread through the samurai community in the Kanto region to popular families across Japan. During the Meiji period (1868-1912), Shichi-go-san became a part of orthodox culture and ritual.
According to Theology (the science that studies the meaning and impact of numbers on human life), odd numbers are considered to represent good fortune and goodness in Japanese culture.
In modern times, Japanese people tend to interpret the ages 7-5-3 according to physical development milestones. For example, at three years of age, children significantly improve their language skills. At age 5, logical thinking becomes clearer. 7 years old is the time when many children start to change their baby teeth.
In the old days, children had to shave their heads from birth to before the age of 3. Once they reach this age, they begin to be allowed hair growth. Therefore, the 3 year old event is called kamioki, which means “leaving your hair intact” and allowing it to grow.
Traditionally, both boys and girls celebrate their first Shichi-go-san at the age of 3. However, nowadays, usually only 3-year-old girls celebrate this day.
Children visit the temple with their parents during Shichi-go-san. Photo: JTBUSA blog
The 5 year old Shichi-go-san ceremony is for boys only. This is the time when children begin to wear traditional hakama pants, marking their adulthood. This event is called hakamagi, meaning “wearing hakama”.
Similarly, the 7-year-old Shichi-go-san ceremony is for girls, called obitoki, when they begin to wear costumes close to the traditional kimono, with an obi belt. Kimono are usually bright colors like red or pink.
Buying kimonos for young children is considered an unnecessary expense, as the child will grow up quickly and cannot be re-worn. Therefore, most parents will rent a kimono for the Shichi-go-san ceremony.
The meaning of the 15th
Families can visit the temple every day of November, even booking an early calendar from September or October, but the official holiday is November 15. Since this is not a national holiday, families will choose the most appropriate date, usually the weekend before or after the 15th.
Day 15 was chosen from the Edo period, by the general Tsunayoshi Tokugawa (commonly known as Oinusama) who wanted to hold a Shichi-go-san ceremony for Tokumatsu’s son on this very day, and gradually others followed suit. One main reason for the general to choose the 15th is that it falls on kishukunichi, which literally means “the day the demons are at home”.
In addition, according to the traditional lunar calendar, November is the autumn month to thank the gods for bringing back good crops of the year. The 15th of the month will be the full moon day, so people also want to thank the gods for letting the children live healthy and full lives up to a certain age.
15 is also the sum of the numbers 7, 5, 3, and is also the odd number.
Thousand year candies
During Shichi-go-san, children will be presented with chitose ame long candies by parents, grandparents or neighbors, which means “millennial candy”. The number of candies is determined by the child’s age. Sticky candies, made from glutinous rice, barley and water, are red and white. These are two lucky colors in Japan, often used in celebrations.
Chitose ame candy. Photo: TW
Candies are placed in decorative bags with turtles and cranes, a familiar symbol of Japanese culture, symbolizing longevity. The words printed on the bag are usually kotobuki (both meaning to congratulate and mean to live a long life), shochikubai (pine, bamboo, plum – the three things that when grouped together mean good things), Tsuru wa sennen, kame wa mannen (a crane for 1,000 years, a turtle for 10,000 years).
Today, mothers can also exchange gifts for each other, instead of sympathy