From October to November, Japanese parents take their young offspring to shrines as part of the traditional “shichigosan” (7-5-3) ceremony of presenting the children to Ujigami, the Shinto guardian god of good health.
Following are basic facts about the shichigosan ritual:
How is shichigosan celebrated?
Parents usually ask a nearby shrine to perform an “oharai” purification rite and recite a “norito” Shinto prayer for their children’s health.
Why the ages of 3, 5, and 7?
In ancient times, these were milestones when rites of passage were performed.
Parents started to let their children’s hair grow out when they turned 3 to celebrate their growth, according to the book “Nenju Gyoji Girei Jiten” (“Annual Events Ceremony Dictionary”). This event is known as “kamioki” (leaving hair).
At age 5, boys wore their first “hakama” pleated traditional trousers, in the “hakamagi” donning celebration.
When girls turned 7, parents celebrated the “obitoki” rite, in which their daughters went from using straps to secure their kimono to wearing obi.
Shichigosan is thus usually celebrated by 3-year-old and 7-year-old girls and 3-year-old and 5-year-old boys.
It is also believed that the odd numbers bring good luck based on the yin-yang Chinese philosophy of feminine and masculine force.
Parents used to celebrate shichigosan based on the ancient Japanese counting method of “kazoedoshi,” in which a baby is automatically 1 year old at birth and becomes a year older every New Year’s Day. Nowadays, parents mark shichigosan based on the Western way of counting age.
When is shichigosan celebrated?
The official day is Nov. 15. Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, who reigned from 1680 to 1709, celebrated the health of his 3-year-old son, Tokumatsu, on that date.
Some books say shichigosan is celebrated on Nov. 15 because this is the festival day for Ujigami — the day of celebrating the autumn harvest under the lunar calendar.
It is also the luckiest day according to yin and yang.
However, shichigosan is currently celebrated throughout October and November.
When did shichigosan originate?
Shichigosan was originally a ceremony for aristocrats’ children in the Heian Period (794-1185). It spread to ordinary citizens in the Edo Period (1603-1867) because kimono dealers promoted the ceremony as an occasion to purchase a new kimono for children, according to the book “Nihon Matsuri to Nenju Gyoji Jiten” (“Dictionary of Japanese Festivals and Annual Events”).
How much does a shichigosan kimono cost?
The price varies widely depending on quality. According to Kazuhiro Nasu, manager of the Shirataki Gofuku Shop in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, established in 1854, a shichigosan kimono set ranges from ¥19,800 to ¥98,000 for 3-year-old girls, ¥39,800 to ¥200,000 for 5-year-old boys, and ¥78,000 to ¥198,000 for 7-year-old girls.
Renting kimono, including a fee for styling hair and applying makeup, is more reasonable, costing from ¥35,000 to ¥65,000. “Recently, more parents are renting instead of buying kimono,” Nasu said.
What is “chitose ame”?
“Chitose ame” is a long stick candy. The name means 1,000-year candy and it is given to children celebrating shichigosan.
It usually comes as a pair of white and pink sticks, the colors of good luck, in a paper bag bearing the image of a crane and a turtle, symbols of longevity, and images of pine trees and bamboo, the symbols of good luck.
Fujiya Co. Ltd., a confectioner that has been making Western-style sweets since 1910, started selling chitose ame and shichigosan cakes in the mid-1950s.
“Sales of chitose ame are dropping due to the low birthrate,” spokeswoman Hiroko Ueda said. “But we will keep selling shichigosan-related products for children.”