Shichi-go-san is a festival celebrated by Japanese parents on the fifteenth of November, to mark the growth of their children as they turn three, five and seven years of age. In my book, Fly Catcher Boy, Sumiko is celebrating her special day at the Shrine! Kenji praises how “kawaii” (cute) she is as the families celebrate.
Shichi-go-san literally means “seven, five and three.” These ages are considered critical in a child’s life. Particularly, at the age of seven, a young girl celebrates wearing her first obi, while at the age of five a young boy celebrates wearing his first hakama pants in public. The age of three marks the first time whereby both boys and girls are allowed to let their hair grow.
The festival is said to have started in the Heian period (794-1185) when 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). Shogun Tsunayoshi Tokugawa was said to be celebrating the growth of his son, Tokumatsu, on that day.
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 don on 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 (“thousand years” 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.