November 15 is
Shichi-go-san, a day of prayer for the healthy growth of young
children. '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.
priest at the shrine performs a purification ceremony and then
children are give shitose ame (thousand year old candy -
longevity 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 candy is shaped like a stick and
comes in a bag that carries illustrations of cranes and
turtles--two animals that are symbols of long life. Chitose
literally means a thousand years and is used to denote very
long periods of time. The candy and the bag are both
expressions of parents' wish that their children lead long,
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
By the Edo
period (1603-1868), 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.
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. One of the most popular Shichi-go-san
destinations in Tokyo is Hie Shrine in Akasaka. It has been
frequented by many families celebrating Shichi-go-san since
the Edo period, and today it is visited by around 2,000
families every year.