Another name for the month of November is "Shimotsuki". November in the lunar calendar corresponds to December in the present calendar, and is said to be named after the beginning of frost.
Among unique customs and events that have been handed down from generation to generation in Japan, one of the most representative traditional events in November is "Shichi-Go-San" Festival. It is one of the most important rites of passage for children, and this article explains the meaning and origin of Shichi-Go-San, as well as how it is spent.
What is Shichi-Go-San?
Shichi-Go-San is a traditional Japanese event to celebrate the growth of children at the ages of 3 (San), 5 (Go), and 7 (Shichi). The ages at which the ceremony is held differ for boys and girls, with boys generally celebrating at 3 and 5 years of age and girls at 3 and 7 years of age.
The reason for celebrating at odd-numbered ages is influenced by the Chinese philosophical Yin-Yang Five Elements theory. According to it, odd numbers are considered to be auspicious "yang" numbers and even numbers are considered to be unlucky "yin" numbers. It is believed that in Japan, odd numbers were also respected as auspicious numbers and celebrated as milestones.
In the days when medical care was not developed, the mortality rate of children was high, and children up to the age of seven were called "children of God" and were considered to be entrusted to the gods. Shichi-Go-San is an important event to thank the gods and Buddha for the child's safe growth so far and to pray for the child's continued healthy growth.
Shichi-Go-San is celebrated on November 15, but in modern times, many people hold celebrations on holidays around that date. Children are dressed in kimono, hakama, suits, dresses, and other formal wear, and everyone has a good time together by visiting shrines and temples, taking family photos, and inviting relatives over for dinner.
Origin of Shichi-Go-San
Shichi-Go-San has its roots in three ceremonies that have been held since the Heian period (794-1185): "Hair Placing Ceremony", "Hakama Dressing Ceremony", and "Obi Undoing Ceremony". Today, Shichi-Go-San is recognized as a single event, but it was originally a separate and distinct event for each age group.
Hair Placing Ceremony
During the Heian period, it was believed that shaving one's hair in infancy would ensure healthy hair growth in the future. The hair placing ceremony is a ceremony in which boys and girls who have reached the age of 3 begin to grow out their hair, which had been shaved until then. A piece of white cotton hair made of white thread is placed on the head, hoping that the child will live long until the hair turns white.
Hakama Dressing Ceremony
This is a ceremony in which a boy turns 5 years old and puts on Hakama, the formal attire of the Heian time, for the first time. Wearing hakama had the meaning of becoming a man and a member of society. The child is made to stand on the goban board facing the direction of good fortune, praying to the god for his success in the world.
Obi Undoing Ceremony
In those days, girls up to early childhood wore kimonos with string tied around their hips instead of an obi (sort of kimono’s belt). In the obi undoing ceremony, girls who have reached the age of 7 stop using strings and wear a kimono with an obi tied around it, just like adults. It is a ceremony to celebrate the growth of a child from an infant to an adult.
In the Meiji era (1868-1912), these three celebrations were combined and called Shichi-Go-San, a name that has continued to the present day. The persistence of this celebration demonstrates that parents' love for their children has remained unchanged throughout the ages.
Foods associated with Shichi-Go-San
Chitose Ame is a food unique to Shichi-Go-San. The history of Chitose Ame dates back to the Edo period, when candy vendors in Asakusa began selling stick-shaped red and white candies in long bags. At that time, it was called 1000-years candy or longevity candy, and it became popular because people believed they would live longer if they ate it, and eventually became an indispensable confectionary for the Shichi-Go-San Festival.
Chitose Ame is made by stretching the candy for a long time, so it is believed that parents wish their children to live a long, healthy, and tenacious life by eating this candy. The bags are also decorated with cranes, turtles, pine, bamboo, and plum trees, all of which are good luck charms, giving the candy a festive appearance.
The traditional Chitose Ame, given by shrines at Shichi-Go-San, is a simple candy made of sugar and starch syrup. The sight of happy children holding a bag of Chitose Ame is adorable, and is the perfect item to bring out the Shichi-Go-San spirit.
Stories related to the four seasons
- January, A Harmonious Family Moment
- February, Demons Out! Fortune In!
- March, Hina Festival for Girls
- April, Cherry blossoms in full bloom
- May, Carp streamers swimming in the sky
- June, Rain falls when plum fruits are ripening
- July, Lovers Meeting across the Milky way on Tanabata
- August, Obon to welcome ancestors back home
- September, Can you see the moon rabbit?
- October, When 8 million deities gather at Izumo Taisha
- November, Shichi-Go-San Festival to celebrate kids' growth
- December, Japanese way of spending Christmas