The month of November is the time when a certain yearly tradition takes place in Japan. Shichi Go San or, simply, Seven Five Three in English, is the tradition where parents bring their little children to their local shrines in order to give thanks for safely reaching the ages of 3, 5 and 7 and praying for their future.
Shichi Go San is a yearly tradition that takes place on November 15. Boys of age 3 and 5, and girls of age 3 and 7 participate in this ceremony. The numbers 3, 5 and 7 are actually lucky numbers in Japan. Still, there is a deeper meaning for celebrating at these ages.
Until the Meiji Period, children were required to have shaved heads until the age of three. When they reached this age, children were allowed to grow out their hair. The ceremony surrounding this step in the child’s growth is called Kamioki (髪置き).
At 5 years of age, little boys experience wearing a Hakama (袴) for the first time. The name of this ceremony is Hakamagi (袴着).
And at 7 years of age, girls who wore Himo (紐) during their 3 year old Shichi Go San will now change from wearing this to wearing an Obi (帯). Girls change this part of their kimono to, in a way, celebrate becoming an adult. This ceremony is called the Obitoki (帯解き).
Going to a Shichi Go San requires the children to wear the clothing mentioned above for each ceremony. Parents usually prepare their children’s clothing by renting from specialty kimono shops.
Boys of age 3 and 5 wear a traditional Hakama (as seen in the picture above).
Girls of age 3 and 7 on the other hand wear a Kimono. Notice the difference between what the 3 and 7 year old girls wear.
These days, parents often opt to wear formal attire like suits or jackets and skirts. There are still some parents who wear kimono along with their children. This could be because of western influence in modern Japan but could also be that the children should be the main point of attraction for this tradition.
Chitose ame are also given to children for these ceremonies. Chitose ame or, literally, Thousand Year Candy is a long stick candy that is white or red. This candy represents the parents’ wishes for their children’s longevity.
These chitose ame are wrapped in a thin, white bag with kame (turtles), tsuru (cranes) and shouchikubai (pine, bamboo and plum) drawings and are considered lucky omens. The crane and turtle symbolize long life, while the pine, bamboo and plums symbolize good health and power.
After the event, families go to photo studios in order to celebrate their childrens Shichi Go San. Families take a group photo and a solo photo of their child in their hakama or kimono. Having pictures taken has been a large part of the Shichi Go San tradition and these pictures are well kept at home once developed.
Shichi Go San is a beautiful tradition and only happens once a year. If you visit Japan in November, this may be one of the Japanese traditions that you want to see. If you head down to your local shrines on the day of Shichi Go San, you will most likely see these little children’s celebration.