Festival for Children 七五三
Shichi-go-san (七五三: 7-5-3) is a Japanese festival celebrated for children aged 7, 5 and 3, thus the name. The official date is November 15th, but as it’s not a national holiday most families will hold their festivities on the nearest weekend instead.
Parents of a 3-year-old or 5-year-old son and/or of a 3-year-old or 7-year-old daughter will take them to a local Shinto shrine. There, they pray to the Ujigami (氏神), the Shinto guardian god of good health, wishing for the well-being of their children.
Shichi-go-san dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185) when aristocrats celebrated the growth of their children. Odd numbers such as 3, 5 and 7 are considered to be lucky numbers according to the East Asian numerology. In ancient times, those ages were associated with certain milestones in the life of a Japanese child:
Age 3: Children didn’t get their hair shaved anymore and were allowed to grow it.
Age 5: Boys put on a hakama for the first time in public.
Age 7: Girls began using an obi sash to tie their kimono, instead of cords.
There are many theories concerning the date of “Shichi-go-san” and nobody knows which one is really true. Some say it is on November 15th because it is the festival day for Ujigami, celebrating the fall harvest under the lunar calendar. Apparently that date was chosen because it was considered the luckiest day of the year. Others suggest it’s because 7+5+3 add up to 15. Another story is that the Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646-1709) celebrated the health of his 3-year-old son, Tokumatsu, on that date.
Whatever the truth is, in modern times people don’t celebrate the “7-5-3-Day” on November 15th anymore – unless it falls conveniently on a weekend. Everybody is busy and thus the shrine visit has to wait until the whole family has a day off – which is usually on the weekend closest to November 15th.
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