7-5-3, Go! It’s Festival Time!

Remember, Remember… the 15th of November?

Girl at Shichi-go-sanIf you live in the UK we’re entering the time of year where you might recently have built a big bonfire and set fire to a man with a very pointy beard all in the name of gunpowder, treason and plot, or perhaps you’re all set to enjoy your fireworks with a big plate of laddu or peda. In Japan a very different kind of celebration is soon to take place.

On November 15th kids aged 3, 5 and 7 will be putting on their fanciest kimonos or hakamas and heading down to their local shrines for shichi-go-san. Celebrated in honour of girls aged 3 and 7 and boys aged 3 and 5 families pray for longevity and happiness for their children. Shichi-go-san literally means 7-5-3, easy to remember huh!

However, this festival has a trick up its sleeve! We told a little fib there… The kids you see heading out for shichi-go-san in Japan won’t actually be 7, 5 and 3 years old, they’ll be 6, 4 and 2! How come? In the past, it was traditional in Japan to ‘add’ a year to a person’s age to account for the time they spent growing before they were born. These days age is calculated the same way as it is in the West, however these alternate birthdays are still used for traditional ceremonies or fortune telling.

Dress to Impress, Shichi-Go-San Style

Shichi-Go-San Hair Decorations

The celebration for children aged 3 was a sign that they were now allowed to grow their hair, before that age it was customary for their hair to be shaved, and that hopefully they would live long enough for it to turn completely white! These days shichi-go-san is an excuse to bust out some pretty fancy up-dos for the girls, with rows and rows of chirimen flowers attached to kanazashi and hair clips painstakingly arranged for maximum cuteness. Many families go to professional photography studios to have the day immortalised, so it’s important that everyone is as well turned out as possible.

However, boys aren’t left out when it comes to the fancy clothes. Their special celebration at age 5 represents the first time boys were allowed to wear hakama. Although many families dress in more casual western clothes for the celebrations these days, it’s still often the first occasion that many boys wear these traditional Japanese style trousers.

Eating Candy for Long Life

For kids this is one of the best holidays of the year since it involves lots and lots of candy! The red and white candy sticks traditionally given as presents during this period, known as chitose ame or thousand year sweetsare symbolic of good fortune and a long life and are usually given to the children in long bags decorated with cranes and turtles, more auspicious symbols of longevity.


Shichi-go-san at Japan Centre

Even if you’re a little long in the tooth for Shichi-go-san, why not celebrate in spirit by giving some candy to the 2, 4 and 6 year olds in your life or perhaps just eating lots and lots of candy yourself too! If you’ve been bitten by the shichi-go-san style bug, Japan Centre also has a wide range of traditional Japanese accessories, with everything from tabi socks and cheerful red zori sandals to lovely floral crepe purses to make you look the part. Or why not try making some origami cranes? We have a wide range of origami supplies from books to paper, and this traditional symbol of long life would make a great shichi-go-san present or activity to do together with kids.

Thanks to DrPleishner at Flickr for the lovely photo of the girl in the red dress.
Thanks to Tomo.Yun for the photo of the girl’s hair do.
Thanks to geraldford at Flickr for the photo of the chitose ame and snacks.