“Shichi-Go-San (7-5-3)” Japan’s Traditional Ceremony to Celebrate the Growth of Children
What is Shichi-go-san?
Shichi-go-san is a traditional Japanese rite of passage to celebrate the healthy growth of children and to show appreciation to the guardian god “ujigami” and other ancestors for safeguarding the children, and to pray for further growth of the children. As the Japanese numbers shichi (seven), go (five), san (three) in the name of the ritual indicates, it is celebrated when a child is seven years old, five years old and three years old.
In the past, as medical technology was not as advanced as today, it was not easy to raise children. Therefore, the ages of 3, 5 and 7 were important milestones in a child’s life.
On Shichi-go-san, children dress up in traditional Japanese kimono and many families pay a visit to the shrine. With the declining birthrate, Shichi-go-san has become a huge event even for grandparents. In recent years, visitors paying visit to the shrines to pray as a commemoration or record of a child’s growth are on the decline and there are an increasing number of families who simply go to a photography studios to get photos taken to record the event. Considering this trend, it is nice to see grandfathers and grandmothers who look so happy to be taking photos of their grandchildren at the shrine. The Shichi-go-san also has a meaning of strengthening family ties as the family gets together for the occasion.
When is Shichi-go-san?
The season for Shichi-go-san is in the fall, and November 15th is said to be the actual day. Nowadays, it is more common to celebrate on a weekend or holiday within the month of November.
Shichi-go-san for Girls
For girls, it is common to celebrate Shichi-go-san at 3 years old and 7 years old.
During the Edo Period (1603-1867), it was customary to shave a child’s head until she was in her 3rd calendar year (2 years old in the Western-style age system). The ceremony marked the end of this phase and to start growing the hair.
In the 7th calendar year (6 years old in the Western-style age system) a girl would start wearing the same width “obi” kimono belt as an adult and thus, this ceremony marked the event at age 7.
Shichi-go-san for Boys
For boys, it is common to celebrate Shichi-go-san at 3 years old and 5 years old.
In the 5th calendar year (4 years old in the Western-style age system) a boy would start wearing the “hakama”, a type of traditional trousers. This ceremony marked the event when a boy would wear the hakama for the first time at age 5.
Although each age of the Shichi-go-san holds a ceremonial meaning, nowadays, there are families that celebrate on all three occasions at ages 3, 5 and 7.
A Gift of the Auspicious Chitose Ame Candy at the End
After praying at the shrine, the chief priests gives the children a candy called “chitose ame” and the ritual of Shichi-go-san comes to a close.
Chitose ame, expressed in kanji characters is “1,000 years old candy”. Thus, it is a candy wishing 1,000 years of life or a very long life. It is thin and long in shape, and colored in red and white. It is packaged in a bag that has images that are traditionally considered auspicious in Japan, such as “shochikubai” (pine, bamboo and plum), crane and tortoise, or characters from the Noh play of “Takasago”. This candy is given to the children.
If you visit a Japanese shrine on a holiday in November, you may be able to see cute children dressed in their Shichi-go-san “haregi (clothing for a day of “hare” or special occasion).