If you’re in Japan tomorrow, my advice to you is to hightail it to a shrine. November 15th is Shichi-go-san (literally 7-5-3), a celebration of children aged 3, 5 and 7 and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen adorable toddlers kitted out in full kiddie kimonos.*
This colorful holiday was once reserved for samurai families back in the Middle Ages. The aforementioned ages were milestones in a upper-class child’s life:
- 3 year old boys and girls were no longer required to shave their heads and could let their hair grow
- 5 year old boys began to put on hakama (trousers) to go out in public
- 7 year old girls began tying their kimono with actual obi sashes instead of cords
By the Edo Period (1603-1868), the celebration had trickeld down to the “lower” classes and all celebrants began visiting shrines to have their children blessed by priests. That tradition still continues today as parents dress their children up in what for many is their first real kimono and trot them off to the local shrine for prayers and pictures. Afterwards, children often receive chitose-ame candy, stick candy that comes in a bag decorated with turtles and cranes, animals that denote longevity.
For tourists, chancing across a shichi-go-san celebration at a shrine is not only a great photo op but an opportunity to witness a centuries-old tradition in action.
*Technically, since Shichi-go-san isn’t a national holiday, most families will head to their local shrine on the weekend nearest November 15th.