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The origin of Shichi-Go-San (Seven-Five-Three) festival in Japan

On November 15 Japanese families with kids of appropriate age celebrate Shichi-Go-San (Seven-Five-Three). Shichi-Go-San originated in Edo period. One of the theories explains that the tradition was started by the fifth shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. In 1861 he started praying for the health of his eldest son, Tokumatsu.

Unfortunately, the boy died two years later, at age 5. He was buried at Tokugawa Mausoleum at buddhist temple Zōjō-ji in Tokyo. In the past, 15th was considered a lucky day, and November is a traditional month of Thanksgiving and harvest festivals. So, on November 15 boys aged 3 and 5, and girls aged 3 and 7, visit shrines and temples with their parents, and also have a photo of them taken. The parents pray for their healthy growth. Shichi-Go-San

Why three, five, and seven years? A long time ago, kids under 3 years old were considered to be under the custody of kami-sama (deities). It is often connected with high rate of infant mortality. Reaching the age of 3 means that the child is finally became a real part of the family. At age 3 children wear soft-scarf like obi (sash) with their kimono. A boy of age 5 wears his first hakama (袴) instead of children’s kimono, which means he is recognized as a man. Similarly, a girl starts wearing a wide obi with her kimono and is recognized as a woman. Shichi-Go-San

The girls often wear their first make-up, often rather heavy.

Now the holiday is celebrated all over Japan, but originally it was held only in the Kanto area. In Saitama, Chiba, and southern part of Ibaraki Prefecture celebration of Shichi-Go-San is sometimes held at luxurious hotels, similar to wedding ceremonies. Among the presents given to children on this day, the most popular are Chitose Ame (千年飴) and balloons. Chitose Ame represents longevity (the name literally means “thousand year candy”), that’s why the bag with it is decorated with a crane and a turtle.Shichi-Go-San

I knew that turtles live long, but it came as a surprise that in Japanese legends the life span of a crane is thousand years. The shape, color and taste of Chitose Ame varies according to the region. It consists of two basic ingredients, syrup and sugar.

Article by Olga Kaneda

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