History of Shichigosan
15th of November, there will be full of little kids in kimono with their parents moving down or up to the local jinja (shrines). It may give you a little surprise, one morning suddenly Japan goes back the time. This is Shichigosan, direct meaning is 7.5.3.
What is this code then?
It´s the age of seven, five and three. Japanese parents celebrate when their kids grow that age.
Why they celebrate Shichigosan?
This custom started in Heian period (平安時代 794-1192) among Kuge (公家 / aristcrats ) and then samurai society. At that time it was very difficult for children to grow big, many died at the birth or an illness afterwards and not many babies didn´t grow even to 3 years old. So people started believing that the little kids were actually not humans but sort of messengers from the God, and until 7 years old, the God can take them away from the parents at any moment.
Shichigosan was commonly introduced to the normal people in Edo period (江戸時代 1603-1867) since all the parents wish their kids to live healthy and longer.
When the child reached 7, he or she had more possibility of growing bigger. So the parents took the child to the uji-gami (氏神 / local shrine) and received ujiko-fuda (氏子札) which proclaimed children as complete human beings. Then the children were accepted in the society.
This is ujiko-fuda in 1841
It worked as a family resister.
Nowadays kids are given omamori and ema.
But why they celebrate at the age of 3, 5 and 7?
As other part of Asia, in Japan also exists Yin and Yang, and odd numbers were considered as good luck. If you see it, most of Japanese seasonal festivals are set on the odd days such as spring day, day of children etc…
Other theory of celebrating at these ages is because these ages are children´s yaku-doshi (厄年). Yakudoshi is the age that brings you bad luck. Even now, Japanese people care about those ages and not only that age but also a year before and a year after, they go to the shrine to get purified or to appreciate for the protection. Yes, Japanese people are quite superstitious. And children likewise, go to the shrine on their yaku-doshi to get rid of bad luck to be able to grow healthy.
What do they do?
Rimind you, this is a celebration started in the 8th century.
Have you eve seen a Japanese series called "Lone Wolf and Cub"? If you have, it´s easy to explain but if not, no problem. Here is the photo. This little boy´s name is Daigorou (大五郎) and he has the typical hair-style of Japanese babies back then.
People believed that children caught diseases and bad energy from the hair and shaved their hair apart from certain parts of the head, which looked like Daigorou. It´s said that they shaved both boys and girls´ hair although I haven´t seen any paint nor pictures of girls´ with no hair.
If their baby survived until 3, they let kid´s hair grow. This is a step from the new born baby period to infancy.
At 5 years old, they celebrate Hakamagi no Oiwai (袴着のお祝い). Hakama is the bottom part of kimono for men that looks like a culotte. If you are familier to kendo (剣道) or aikido (合気道), that is hakama.
This is a celebration only for boys and started it when the 5th shogun, Tsunayoshi Tokugawa (徳川綱吉) put hakama on his son, Tokumatsu (徳松) for the first time, and it´s said that it was the 15th of November.
Now, the celebration at 7 years old is called Obitoki no Oiwai (帯解のお祝い). This is a celebration for girls. Obi is a belt for kimono that colourful and beautiful one, and toki means to take off or undone.
Until 7, girls wore kimono without obi but some strings. There are some change depending on their age. More simple to many layers which we imagine when we talk about kimono.
Very simple, no layers and tie it with a built-in string.
A little more complicated than hitotsu-mi but yet use very simple belt made of wider material.
(Some one seems to be a terrible photographer…)
Almost a complete kimono and here they wear proper obi with pretty embroidery.
On the 15th of November, the kids the age of 3, 5 and 7, mostly 3 and 7 year-old girls are taken to a local hair salon, get decorated the hair, smeared some lip gross, put a few layers of kimono and well tightened up then being squeezed into new zouri (草履 / kimono sandals) which usually rub the soft skin between toes. If you see any little girls in kimono crouching in the middle of the shrine or the street, you know why. And that was me, too. That little one stiffly smiling in the photo above would start fretting soon, wishing to get pick up so that she wouldn´t need to walk by herself anymore.
Usually people go to a local jinja, relatively big ones. Probably if you are in Tokyo, you can see them for example, at Meiji Jingu (明治神宮) in Harajuku (原宿) or Hikawa Jinja (氷川神社) in Akasaka which where I went. But I´m sure there will be more places. Check your local main jinja.
Once they go inside the jinja, Kan-nushi (Shinto priest) receives them and purifies all the children. After that, he´ll give each kid Ujiko-fuda but it seems like they are given a good luck charm (omamori) and ema as I mentioned above. And of course, after all boring ceremony, kids will receive some treat like this.
The typical food for Shichigosan is a candy called Chitose ame (千歳飴). It´s a stick candy usually white and pink and comes in a long paper back with a picture of lucky characters on it such as turtle or crane since they are considered to have a long life (turtles live for 10,000 years and cranes for 1,000 years). Actually chitose means 1,000 years. Long time ago, when many babies couldn´t survive, the parents wished a long live for their children by giving them a candy named thousand years.
I can only tell you that I didn´t like it. It tasted flour with sugar. I remember that it had quite dull taste.
But anyway, this is a good luck food and most parents buy it for their children.
In some regions of Japan, people eat konbu (昆布 / kelp) or awabi (鮑 / abalone) since they are also considered as the food brings a good luck.
So tomorrow, let´s see how many kids in kimono you can find on the street.