Shichi Go San - Japanese Festival
What is the significance of 7, 5 and 3 for a Japanese festival and where did the tradition come from?
Although kimonos can be seen occasionally in Japan, most people now adopt Western dress. But, on a couple of special festival days each year, brightly coloured traditional dress can be seen. One of these festivals is the Shichi go san Festival for children. While it is actually supposed to be celebrated on November 15th, this is not an official holiday so many parents instead now combine it with Culture Day on November 3rd, which is. Alternatively, they visit the shrine on a weekend near to that date.
'shichi-go-san" literally means "7-5-3' and the festival is called this because it is especially for children aged 7, 5 and 3. Girls aged 7 and 3 and boys aged 5 and 3, dress in their finest formal clothing and are taken to a Shinto shrine to give thanks for their health and pray for their continued growth and wellbeing. The girls' kimonos are brightly coloured with long draping sleeves and their hair is coiffed and decorated with cloth flowers and dangling decorations. They have probably spent most of the morning being fussed over in the beauty parlour. The boys wear 'haori' jackets and 'hakama' or formal skirt-like trousers. Nowadays, formal western dress such as party dresses and suits are also commonly seen. Many photographs are taken and usually some professional ones are too before everyone can enjoy a party to celebrate the event.
The Shinto priest at the shrine performs a purification ceremony and then children are give shitose ame (thousand year old candy) in special paper, coloured bags which is very much like English rock candy except red and white, the colours of luck and celebration. The bags are decorated with cranes and turtles to symbolise the parents' wish for long life for their child.
It is said that Shichi Go San is actually a combination of three festivals from the Samurai times, hence the triple name. At 3, both boys and girls stopped having their heads shaved and were allowed to grow it long. At 5, boys wore hakama (pleated trousers) for the first time. And at 7, girls began to wear an obi (proper sash on the kimono) instead of a cord belt.
In the 1600s, the practice of visiting a shrine on each of these occasions to pray for the health of children aged 3, 5 and 7 was adopted by the general populace. At that, the visit was still to celebrate the Samurai traditions. It wasn't until over 200 years later that the traditions currently used were put into place. At that time, the precise date of November 15th was chosen as being a lucky day according to the Japanese calendar.
For a visitor to Japan, the spectacle of hundreds or thousands of tiny children dressed in pinks and oranges and reds has to be seen to be believed. The biggest and most popular shrine is Hie Shrine in Tokyo that has over 2000 families visit it each year for Shichi go san. Parents are incredibly proud of their offspring on this day and, if you want to take photos, they are usually more than happy to oblige. The biggest problem is normally trying to decide which child looks the cutest!