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“Adulting” too soon

January 19, 2017 10:31 pm | Jellyfish Education Consultancy

“Adulting” too soon

On November 15, the parents will be moving down or up to the local jinja (shrines) together with their kids dressed in kimonos. It may give you a little shock but one morning Japan suddenly travels back in time. This is Shichigosan Celebration with the direct meaning is  7.5.3.

The children that age in 7, 5, and 3 are being celebrated by their parents.

These ages are particularly celebrated because the ages of 3, 5 and 7 are seen as important markers of stages in a child’s growth and because odd numbers are seen as lucky in Japan.

Shogun Tsunayoshi Tokugawa was said to be celebrating the growth of his son, Tokumatsu, on that day. The festival is said to have started in the Heian period (794-1185) where the nobles celebrated the growth of their children on a lucky day in November. The festival was subsequently set on the fifteenth of that month during the Kamakura period (1185-1333).

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 custom followed today evolved in the Meiji era (1868-1912). November 15 was chosen for this celebration because it was considered one of the most auspicious days of the year in the Japanese almanac. Since the day is not a national holiday, most families pay their shichi-go-san respects on the weekend just before or after the day.

Today, parents celebrate shichi-go-san as their boys turn three and five years of age and as their girls turn three and seven. The boys wear haori jackets and hakama trousers, while the girls would wear a special ceremonial kimono when making their shichi-go-san visit. In recent years though, an increasing number of children are wearing Western-style suits and dresses.

Following the visit to the shrine, parents buy chitose-ame (a thousand-year-old candy) for their children. The candy is shaped like a stick and comes in a bag that carries illustrations of cranes and turtles – two animals that traditionally symbolise longevity in Japan. The candy and the bag are both expressions of parents’ wish that their children lead long and prosperous lives.

Finally, the flexible choice of date for the shichi-go-san shrine visit may also be a sign of the times.

Visit a Japanese shrine even a couple of weeks before or after the official day of November 15 and you will be sure to witness a happy shichi-go-san family group. The Japanese today are choosing to keep the warm sense of togetherness and childlike fun of this family-focused heritage.