Tradition and Festivites

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.

The Shinto 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, prosperous lives.

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.

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.


Shichi - Go - San Index