This Dressed to the Nines for Seven-Five-Three post was written by my good friend Efrot Weiss. She is a long-term resident of Japan, and intercultural trainer and coach. If you are planning to celebrate 7-5-3 check here is more information for you on where to rent a kimono and which shrine to visit. Laugh, Learn & Live!
Dressed to the Nines for Seven-Five-Three
This month see hordes of doting parents and their traditionally dressed children descend on shrines across Japan for the annual Shichi-Go-San festival. Translated as Seven-Five-Three, the occasion is for families to pray for the healthy growth of their 3- and 7-year-old girls and 5-year-old boys. It’s also an opportunity for bicultural families to celebrate with non-Japanese relatives. “I wanted [our sons] to dress up in the traditional costume,” says Rumiko Laughlin. “On top of that, it was very special for my husband and his family to see them dress up in hakama [traditional pants].”
This rite of passage was first celebrated among the noble and samurai classes during the Heian period (794–1185),
when infant mortality was common. As such, children were believed to belong to the gods until the age of 7, when they were recognized as complete human beings.
Milestones on their path to physical vitality were commemorated at the ages of 3, 5 and 7 with a trip to the shrine. Since hair was thought to harbor disease and bad energy, samurai children had to keep their heads shaved until the age of 3. At 5, boys donned hakama for the first time, while 7-year-old girls were allowed to fasten their kimono with a formal obi sash. By the Edo period (1603–1868), commoners also celebrated Shichi-Go-San. Some people believe that the holiday was promoted by kimono makers to boost sales of the garment for children—a kind of ancient marketing ploy.
During this time, November 15 was recognized as the day of Shichi-Go-San. According to Japanese numerology and the balancing forces of yin and yang, the 15th day of the 11th month is auspicious. As the day is not an official national holiday, families often visit a shrine on the weekend before or after November 15.
Many children wear traditional clothes for the festival, but formal Western wear is also popular. “My parents were young and thought that cute, one-piece dress was for me, rather than kimono,” Laughlin says. “We went to Mitsukoshi or Takashimaya to buy a fancy velvet dress, black patent leather shoes and white tights. They also bought me a cute wig and tied a nice bow on top of my head.” Chieko Latimore dressed her daughter in the kimono she had worn at her age. “When Kate turned 7, she wore a real kimono for the first time—the same one that I wore for my Shichi-Go-San,” she says.
Jane Yamano launched a new family tradition by designing matching kimono. “I got the idea in Hawaii a few years ago, when I bought matching sundresses for my daughter, Mia, and me,” she says. “We decided to celebrate with Mia’s friends, hoping it would make it a nice and memorable experience for her and the girls.”
Children receive chitose ame (1,000-year candy) during the festival, often in bags illustrated with cranes and turtles, traditional symbols of long life. They are also given amulets for good luck.
“Shichi Go San is fun for the children but more fun for the parents or grandparents, who can dress up the little ones without any arguing before they become teenagers,” says Laughlin with a laugh. The festival led to a new interest for Yamano’s daughter. “The best thing that came out of this day is that Mia now likes kimono and having her hair done,” Yamano says. “She is even interested in designing long hairdos. This is very good news for us, and I’m sure my grandmother is very happy and smiling down on us from heaven.”
First published in the November 2014 issue of Tokyo American Club’s monthly magazine, iNTOUCH.
If you enjoyed reading about Seven-Five-Three, you might enjoy these Japanese holiday posts as well.
Dressed to the Nines for 7-5-3 – September
Dressed to the Nines for Seven-Five-Three
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