Japanese Language Blog

Japanese Culture: Shichi-Go-San (七五三) Festival Posted by on Nov 15, 2008 in Uncategorized

Today is a day of pride for parents who have three, five or seven year old girls or boys.  Every year on the 15th of November, children ages 3, 5, and 7 celebrate a rite of passage on the Shichi-Go-San (七五三) festival.  Shichi () means seven in Japanese, while go () = five and accordingly san () means three.  Why are the ages 3, 5 and 7 chosen as opposed to ages 2 or 4?  It’s actually not a random selection of numbers, but a selection based on Japanese numerology and the belief that odd numbers are considered lucky numbers.  This tradition goes way back to ancient times; when infant mortality rates were high.  If a child had survived the ages 3, 5, and 7, it was considred a good sign that the child would survive into adulthood.

On this day you will often see children with chitoseame (千歳飴) in their mouth.  Chitoseame (千歳飴) literally means a “thousand year candy.”  Chitoseames (千歳飴) are long and thin, with red strips.  They look a lot like a traditional American candy cane, but without the cane shape.  There is a special reason as to why the Chitoseame (千歳飴) is red.  Red symbolizes vitality and is supposed to represent good health.  The longness of the Chitoseame is also symbolic for long life.  Additionally, the bags that contain the chitoseame (千歳飴) are elaborately decorated with cranes and turtles.  Cranes and turtles are thought to possess long life and symbolize the hope that parents have for the future of their children.

The fascinating part though, are the traditional Japanese outfits that the children wear.  For example you might see a three year old girl wear a hifu (ひふ) or padded vest.

Additionally, a seven year old girl might be seen wearing an obi (おび) for the first time.  An obi (おび) is a colorful sash tied to the kimono (着物).  The obi (おび) is tied in an elaborate bow at the back of the kimono (着物).  A kimono (着物) is a full length traditional Japanese robe.  I’ll talk more about the kimono (着物) in another post.

Let’s not forget the boys!  Five year old boys will wear a hakama (), which are really baggy trousers.

The festival is celebrated in the month of November.  Therefore it’s a bit cold.  The boys may wear a haori (はおり) on top.  A haori (はおり) is like a Japanese jacket that reaches the knees or the waist.

It’s common for parents to take lots of pictures of their children dressed in all their glory.  Who wouldn’t?  The kids look so cute!  It’s like the prom, except for little kids!

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  1. Alicia Delgado:

    Is there a difference between 7 “nana” and 7 “shichi”?