Guest writer: saeshii#0082
What’s the earliest childhood memory that you can remember? Was it your first birthday? Your first vacation with your family? Your first day in school? As a child, we experienced a lot of different things, whether they were good or bad, they still linger in our minds and we’d remember them at the most random times. During this month of November, children flood Japan’s shrines with their families as they celebrate Shichi-Go-San (七五三), a holiday made just for them!
History and Meaning
Shichi-Go-San when translated literally means “Seven-Five-Three.” It’s considered as a traditional passage and festival for the people in Japan for it is usually celebrated with children who are three, five or seven years old. Girls aged three and seven attend this celebration, while it’s ages three and five for boys. This festival highlights the growth, happiness, and well-being of children. If you add the numbers three, five and seven, its sum will be the number fifteen, which is why the festival is held during the 15th of November, but since it is not a national holiday, it is generally observed during the closest weekend.
According to numerology, these three odd numbers are considered lucky. In ancient times, purification ceremonies would happen during these ages. Back then, children were considered lucky because families had lost them due to poor health conditions. That’s why until the age of seven, offsprings were considered as children of Japanese gods. This festival is a combination of traditional milestones in a child’s early life such as growing their hair, wearing a hakama for boys and an obi for girls for the very first time. Today, however, this festival is held to give thanks for the health and happiness of a child.
Customs and Traditions
During this festival, families would take photographs of their children. The youth gets a special type of candy called chitose ame, (千歳飴) or “thousand-year old candy” which represents a health, growth and long life. It’s a long, thin, red and white candy that is placed inside a long paper bag that is decorated with a crane and a turtle which both symbolize longevity. In addition to this, paper bags are also designed with pine trees and bamboo which signify good luck. In the present, however, kids aren’t the only ones getting these sweet treats. Now, it’s more common for mothers to exchange gifts as well to show gratitude for watching over the children.
During November, most neighborhood shrines will put up a flag to indicate that families can come by for the ceremony. In these shrines, they either have people simply visit the shrines, take photographs of it and in rarer cases, have a Shinto priest perform a short ritual. Traditionally, people will go to their local shrines for these shrines have been involved in the family’s daily lives. Nowadays, people would choose shrines based on convenience, general atmosphere and whether their friends will go to the same one. Some mamatomo groups will attend the festival then go to a party at someone’s house, making it a fun event that children can go to with their friends.
Our childhood is truly something that we should remember dearly, no matter how good or bad the experiences were. They still hold some sort of significance in our lives and they shape us into the person we are today. In this part of our life, we get to experience everything for the first time. So we should keep those moments and cherish them as we grow older.