Shichi-go-san (literally, 7, 5 and 3 a gala day for children of three, five and seven years of age.) (七五三)

Shichi-go-san is an annual event praying for the growth of children of three, five, and seven years of age.

Brief Summary

It is an annual event to visit shrines and temples on November 15 to celebrate the growth of boys of five, and girls of three and seven years old. Originally, it was carried out when children become of age following the traditional Japanese system (counting one calendar year: 0 year old baby is counted as a 1 year old under the old system), today it is often expressed their ages in completed years. Depending upon the region, a boy of three years old is included and celebrated in the festival (Source: Seikatsukihondaihyakka - the Basic encyclopedia for life), Shueisha Inc.).

While today, it is well-practiced throughout the whole country of Japan, it was originally a local folkway of the Kanto area.

Meanwhile, there is another folkway custom of jusan-mairi gala for 13 year old children to visit shrines and temples to pray (for knowledge, happiness and health to become adults) originating in Kyoto and Osaka, it is also gradually spreading to the whole country.

The origin and current status
The 15th day of the lunar calendar falls on the Kishuku-nichi day (when oni or ogre do not walk around and it's a very lucky day for everything except for weddings) of the Nijuhasshuku (Twenty-eight mansions, a date counted in Chinese astronomy), and the day is said to be of Good Fortune for everything. And the November of the lunar calendar is also a month for people to thank God after the yearly harvest, and on the 15th the date of the full moon, people thank ujigami (a guardian god or spirit of a particular place in the Shinto religion) for the harvest and growth of children, and pray for divine protection. After the revision of the calendar during the Meiji period, the ritual was practiced on November 15 of the new calendar. Today, the ritual is widely practiced on November 15 and quite often takes place on Saturdays, Sundays, or on a National holiday in November. In many cold regions like Hokkaido, etc. it is often advanced by one month and the ritual takes place on October 15 because November 15 is too cold.

They are the remnants of ceremonies conducted at the age of three, 'Kamioki (the ceremony of letting a child's hair grow)', at the year five, 'Hakamagi (ceremony fitting child with a hakama (Japanese skirt) for the first time)', and at the year of seven, 'Obitoki (the ceremony of fitting an ordinary obi to a child)' and 'Himootoshi (the ceremony of cutting cords to fit an ordinary obi for a child).'
Today, children are well-dressed (best bib and tucker) in suitable attire for the formalwear in the event. Though children often wear western clothes, in most cases they wear kimono. Often girls (very rare but sometimes also boys) have their faces done for the first time (in most cases, they are heavily made up). It is influenced by the Chinese idea of regarding odd numbers as lucky.

As unique conventions, there are customs in some regions in Fukuoka Prefecture to conduct 'Himotoki (the ceremony of fitting an ordinary obi to a child)' of children of 4 to 5 years old, 'Hekokaki (the ceremony of fitting a loincloth to a boy)' and 'Yumojikaki (the ceremony of fitting a Japanese petticoat to a girl)' of 7 years old, all of which are similar to the ritual of coming of age day by wearing adult form of underwear such as fundoshi (a loincloth) or yumoji (a petticoat) for the first time.

In Chiba and Ibaragi Prefecture, some people there celebrate the Shichi-go-san ceremony as luxuriously as a wedding reception.

Until modern times in Japan, for the same reasons as those of current developing countries (malnutrition, deficient knowledge of health and poverty, etc.), the probability of small babies surviving to adulthood was quite low. Under such circumstances, this ritual has become established to celebrate the survival at each turning point of small baby boys and girls. The reason that boys are celebrated earlier than girls is that along with the implication that boys generally become successors in families, there was the fact that the survival rate of boys was less than girls until modern breakthroughs in medical technologies had developed.

In some regions, people are thankful that 3 year olds are given language, 5 year olds wisdom, and 7 year olds teeth by God(s), and in other regions, people regard 3, 5, and 7 years as critical times of life and Shichi-go-san takes place as a kind of ritual of warding off evil fortunes.

As it is a custom to visit shrines and temples at Shichi-go-san, the Catholic Church in Japan takes this tradition into consideration and includes this celebration and prayer of Shichi-go-san in a mass practiced around that time.

Chitoseame (a long stick of red and white candy sold at children's festivals)
On the day of Shichi-go-san, people celebrate the day by eating chitoseame. When eating chitoseame, there is an accompanying prayer said by parents for the longevity of their children. The candy is thin and long (within about 15mm in diameter and 1 meter in length) and colored in red and white which is thought to be a good omen. Chitoseame is contained in the chitoseame-bukuro (bag) on which lucky symbols of cranes and turtles, and shochikubai (pine, bamboo and plum trees) are printed.

The origin of Chitoseame is said to be around the years of Genroku (1688 - 1703) and Hoei (1704 - 1710) of Edo Period when the candies were first sold by candy seller Shichibei of Asakusa.

Manufacturing process
Chitoseame varies in the shape and colors according to regions.

In Kanto, chitoseame's materials are thick malt syrup and sugar. The material is boiled down in a pot to about 140 degrees Celsius. Then take it out of the pot and make it flat, expand it and let it cool. When it is cold and starts to become stiff, set the soft block of candy in a machine called Seihakuki (a machine for whitening with air bubbles) and hang it on a bar and fold it into many layers while extending the material to mix it evenly with air. During this process, micro air bubbles contained in the original transparent candy material diffuses reflection and the candy appears white. During the process, the candy takes on the texture of chitoseame that creates a unique feeling on the tongue when eaten. The block of candy, hot enough to cause burns when touched, is detached from the seihakuki machine. Expand the block of candy by hand or machine until long and thin and then roll it on a flat surface and form and shape evenly. Cut and shape the candy with care, then cut the candy into proper lengths with a kitchen knife. Confectionaries, that respect tradition and formality, manufacture chitoseame candies employing the above steps, and then serve the candies at shrines and receive exorcism, and then place them on shop shelves.

It is used to remember some numerical sequences with a rhyming game using 7, 5, and 3.

The ratio customarily used to make the National flag of Japan is 7:10 and the sun in center is three fifth of the length, mainly the pre-war generations memorize the ratio as 'shichi-go-san' when they made the flag themselves.

A triangle with maximum inner angle of 120 degrees that has sides with a ratio of 5:3 has a remaining side of 7.
Besides a right triangle with 3, 4, and 5 sides, this triangle is called 'triangle of shichi-go-san.'
It is used as an example of the cosine theorem.

There is a surname of Japanese called 'Shime' with 七五三 in kanji characters.

[Original Japanese]