I spent part of my childhood in Japan, including my fifth birthday. That was the year I learned something new and exciting about Japan, because on November 15th, my parents celebrated the traditional Shichigosan along with all other parents – this is a special celebration for seven, five, and three-year-old children.
The roots of this celebration go back to the 1600s. Initially boys were celebrated in their 3rd and 5th years and girls in their 5th and 7th years. The distinction has since disappeared, though, and both genders get to celebrate three times instead of two. But what does this mean in practice? On November 15th, the parents pray at the altars of Buddhist or Shintoist deities (and more recently, at Christian ones, too) for a happy and fortunate future for their youngsters. On these days, the children are dressed in traditional Japanese garments, kimonos, taken to a photographer to register the moment, and then they go on to celebrate with all sorts of sweet goodies.
To this day I clearly remember that I spent nearly as much time getting my hair done and at the cosmetician’s as on my wedding day. It took hours and hours to get my hair into a traditional Japanese bun, and to get the make-up on my face just right. Then came the clothes! Getting into the multi-layer kimono took nearly an hour. I’m sure that it took longer than putting on my wedding dress. This was followed by the mandatory accessories – the little handbag I had to carry and the chitoseame (千歳飴 = sweets or a thousand years), which symbolically wish the child one thousand years of life. In practice this meant two pieces of candy, one red, and one white, each about a meter in length, which last for days and days, to the joy of the children. The wrapping is full of symbolism: on it you can find a crane and a turtle, which give the message of a long and lucky life.
Following the lengthy preparations I was taken to a professional photographer, who took several hours to snap the pictures commemorating the event. This is the result (my parents have adored this snapshot from the time they was taken).
Finally, we went to visit a Shinto shrine to pray for my future. By this time I was so tired that I could hardly wait to get rid of all the fancy clothes, go home, and get some sleep.
That’s the story of how a five-year-old girl marked the great day on which they celebrated her, her future, and her health.
The photos are all my own.