Japanese Patterns of Design
Shichi-Go-San, three yrs old girl in kimono

Shichi-Go-San: Japanese Celebration of Children Age of 7, 5, 3

Shichi-Go-San, three yrs old girl in kimono
Shichi-Go-San, three yrs old girl in kimono (www.studioemu.net)

Shichi-Go-SanNovember 15th is a special day for children in Japan. 3 years old girls and boys, 5 years old boys and 7 years old girls put traditional Japanese clothing and go visit the nearest shrine for celebration. It is a day for thankfulness and prayer for children being alive and healthy. Let’s take a look into Shichi-Go-San history and how it looks like.

Brief History of Shichi-Go-San (7, 5, 3)

Shichi-Go-San, children praying in front of the shrine
Shichi-Go-San, children praying in front of the shrine (google.com)

It’s considered that Shichi-Go-San festival began around the Heian period (794-1185). Court nobles used to celebrate their children’s transitioning from helpless infancy to happy and healthy young kid period. Shichi means 7, Go is 5 and San is 3 in Japanese literally.

However, the style we celebrate children at the age of three, five and seven might have developed in Muromachi period (1392-1492). Children were only recognized in their family register after the age of three due to the high infant mortality rate at that time.

Why 7-5-3? (Shichi-go-san)

Shichi-Go-San: 7-5-3 is combined celebration each used to be celebrated separately before. It is interesting that combination of numbers is the name of the festival. Gradually, those three ceremonies got together and now we call them Shichi-Go-San.

Kamioki at the Age of 3

3 sign
3 sign (google.com)

Boys and girls aged three stopped getting their hair shaven and were allowed to grow their hair.

Parents brought their children at the age of three to the nearest or the local shrine to be blessed and to show that the babies had survived infancy, which was truly a fortunate thing when it was not unusual to lose their children under the age of three.

Shinto Shrine: History, Architecture, and Functions

Before three, all children’s heads were shaved usually by parents. The way people wore their hair showed which social class they belonged to.

Rite of Hakamagi at the Age of 5

5 sign
5 sign (Pinterest)

Boys aged five put on a hakama (skirt-like pants) for the first time in public. Before this ceremony, all children wore kimonos. This rite celebrated five-year-old boy’s crossing into adulthood.

Rite of Obitoki at the Age of 7

7 sign
7 sign (Pinterest)

Girls aged seven began using an obi sash to tie their kimono, instead of cords. Age seven was considered to be old enough for girls to wear obi (long, wide cloth belt) with her new kimono.

Lucky Number 15 – Shichi-go-san

15 sign
15 sign (google.com)

Shichi-Go-San is celebrated on November 15 traditionally. Why this date is the official day for Shichi-Go-San, Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, who reigned from 1680 to 1709, celebrated the health of his 3-year-old son, Tokumatsu on that date. In addition to that, it’s considered the most auspicious day of the year, according to the traditional Japanese calendar. Also, fifteen is the sum of three, five and seven.

Shichi-Go-San girl and boy running
Shichi-Go-San girl and boy running (smalltalks.ru)

Nowadays, Shichi-Go-San is celebrated throughout November, since 15th could be on the weekday, which is not convenient for parents nor their children to go to the shrine for celebration. Usually, parents take their children on the weekend before the 15th or after.

Chitose-ame (Longevity Candy) – Shichi-go-san

Chitose-ame in various size
Chitose-ame in various sizes (www.paperbag.co.jp)

Chitose-ame is a long stick candy in a paper bag. The name literally means “thousand years candy”, hence the wish for children, live long healthy and prosperous life. It is given by their parents or grandparents to children after they visited the shrine.

Shichi-Go-San, girl and boy with chitose-ame and a small toy
Shichi-Go-San, girl and boy with chitose-ame and small toys (www.city.gamagori.lg.jp)
Chitose-ame, Longevity Candy
Chitose-ame, Longevity Candy (haconiwa)

It usually comes as a pair of white and pink sticks, which is the combination of good luck in Japan. You see cranes and turtles, both of them are the symbol of longevity,  and images of pine trees and bamboo, which are the symbols of good luck on a paper bag, but nowadays you see various new patterns of paper bags as well.

Shichi-Go-San boy and girl
Shichi-Go-San boy and girl (google.com)

In the past, how much happiness and appreciation parents would feel on the day of Shichi-Go-San thinking of the high infant mortality rate is beyond our imagination.

It has become more casual celebration today, parents bring their children to a beauty salon to do their hair and kimono, hakama, then in the photo shooting studio to take pictures of them. Parents themselves put a formal dress on and often are taken a picture as well together.

It is a great reminder that they have received the good health and the day they can enjoy going out in the finest dress. The memory and pictures taken this day would live long days to come.

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Hiroko Matsuyama

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