Shichi-Go-San (Seven-Five-Three Day)
Shichi-Go-San (七五三, lit. “Seven-Five-Three”) is a traditional rite of passage and festival day in Japan for three- and seven-year-old girls and five-year-old (and less commonly three-year-old) boys, held annually on November 15 to celebrate the growth and well-being of young children. As it is not a national holiday, it is generally observed on the nearest weekend.
Shichi-Go-San is said to have originated in the Heian period amongst court nobles who would celebrate the passage of their children into middle childhood. The ages 3, 5 and 7 are consistent with East Asian numerology, which holds that odd numbers are lucky. The practice was set to the fifteenth of the month during the Kamakura period.
Its meaning is to celebrate the survival of children because in the past people have lost their children due to poor health conditions. So, until the age of 7, children were thought to be the offspring of Japanese Gods.
Over time, this tradition passed to the samurai class who added a number of rituals. Children—who up until the age of three were required by custom to have shaven heads—were allowed to grow out their hair. Boys of age five could wear hakama for the first time, while girls of age seven replaced the simple cords they used to tie their kimono with the traditional obi. By the Meiji period, the practice was adopted amongst commoners as well and included the modern ritual of visiting a shrine to drive out evil spirits and wish for long healthy life.
The tradition has changed little since the Meiji period. While the ritual regarding hair has been discarded, boys who have aged five and girls who are aged three or seven are still dressed in kimono—many for the first time—for visits to shrines. Three-year-old girls usually wear hifu (a type of padded vest) with their kimono. Western-style formal wear is also worn by some children. More modern practice is photography, and this day is well known as a day to take pictures of children. It is common to observe the rite based on the traditional way of calculating age, or kazoedoshi, in which children are one year old at birth and gain a year on each New Year’s Day. In this case, girls celebrate in the year in which they would reach an age according to the modern calculation of two or six, and boys in the year in which they would reach an age according to the modern calculation of four.
Chitose ame (千歳飴), literally “thousand-year candy”, is given to children on Shichi-Go-San. Chitose ame is long, thin, red and white candy, which symbolizes healthy growth and longevity. It is given in a bag decorated with a crane and a turtle, which represents long life in Japan. Chitose ame is wrapped in a thin, clear, and edible rice paper film that resembles plastic.