Shichi-go-san (seven-five-three): A rite of passage celebration [November 1999]

November 15, chosen as the most auspicious day according to the traditional Japanese calendar, is the day that 3 and 7 year old girls, and generally only 5 year old boys (though in some families 3 year old boys also) are dressed up and taken to the Shinto shrine. A priest may be retained to offer up a prayer. The ceremony is to celebrate the growth of babies into healthy, sturdy children. Chitose candy wrapper It's an expensive proposition, because traditionally a child would receive a complete outfit for the occasion. But now the traditional costume can be rented for as little as 20,000 yen from places like Daei Department Store. Recently more and more families opt for western style suits and fancy dresses instead. After the visit to the shrine, parents give the child who is being honored "chitose" candy. The long sticks of hard candy are put in a long thin bag illustrated with the symbols of long life: cranes and turtles. Some families put in 3, 5 or 7 sticks, as done by their parents, but nowadays, there is often a bigger selection of candy in the bag.

Since November 15 is not a national holiday, most families pay their Shichi-go-san respects on the weekend just before or after. Even if you are not celebrating Shichi-go-san for one of your children, this is a perfect time to go to a shrine and catch photos of the little darlings all dressed up. The Meiji shrine in Harajuku and the Hie Shrine in Akasaka are very popular places for this, but you will see the families with their gayly dressed little girls and more somberly dressed little boys at all the major shrines.

Feedback received:

14 Nov 1999:
Yasukuni Jinja /shinto shrine (Kudanshita, Tokyo) prayer - 5000 yen
Not so famous shrines probably about 3000 yen for prayer

17 Nov 1999:
Nezu Jinja/shinto shrine (Nezu station on the Chiyoda subway line, Tokyo)
Recently refurbished and repainted, really beautiful! I put 2000 yen into the contribution envelope for the prayer because this is what my guide told me to put in. I didn't actually hear a figure mentioned in the instructions from the shrine staff person (but my Japanese is abysmal).

An account of my daughter's 7-5-3 celebration:
All dressed up!First, some friends who also have a 3 year old this year came over to my place at 9 am and helped do my daughter's hair and then dress her in the under-kimono "jubam", outer kimono and little padded jacket without sleeves (special for 3 year-olds: "hifu"), which they very kindly were loaning my daughter for the day. (Under all this she had a sleeveless undershirt and some panties.) She also put on a pair of split-toed socks ("tabi") and sneakers.

We switched to the little platform sandals ("zori") after arriving at Takashimaya Department Store in Shinjuku where we had an 11 am appointment at the Chips Child Portrait Studio booth on the 9th floor. I was planning on the minimum package, one big picture for 3,900 yen. However, the effort they put into taking about 6 or 7 shots was phenomenal. They had several tricks up their sleeve to catch a toddler's attention and maybe even get a smile. I am worried that when I see the proofs in about a week or so, that they will make me a willing spender of a much larger sum.

After the visit to the photo studio, we headed for the Shinto shrine in Nezu. Fortunately it was not too long a drive since in the store and in the car the heavy garments were losing their charm. They are quite warm, and my practical daughter started removing them. I had chosen a less busy shrine, because I didn't want a long wait, and I didn't want to be embarrassed by a tantrum or some similar upset. We were lucky to be the only Shichi-go-san group there (it was Tuesday, 16 November)! Everything went quickly and our snap shots show a lot of shrine background instead of other peoples' legs!

The shrine has been recently repainted and everything was immaculate. First we were greeted by a man in a simple karate-like white pants and shirt. He explained the procedure a little bit - fill out this form, put some money in this envelope, and so on. Then my daughter received a ribbon with a medallion to put around her neck (she refused it). Then we stepped into a smaller room through the shoji and all knelt. The priest, a young, tall and handsome man, came in wearing an immaculate outfit with the little black hat on top, moving in stylized fashion. We prayed. When the priest bowed, we all bowed. My daughter was very good at this. Then we all moved into the big center room. The celebrant was to sit on the middle tatami. Then the priest sitting up ahead with his back to us, opened a paper with lots of beautiful kanji in vertical rows, and read another prayer in stylized fashion. My daughter was talking and giggling through most of this but she still imitated the priest when he bowed.

Finally she was asked by the priest to place a twig from the sakaki tree, with the shinto style decoration of folded white paper tied to it, up on the alter, which she did with my help. After she was given a white saucer to hold, into which the priest poured a bit of sake, and she took a sip. She did this very well, including her characteristic "Achhhh" after imbibing something cool and refreshing. Then the parents also had a sip from the same saucer. AND then the priest gave the celebrant a cloth amulet and a thin, long paper bag with some presents including one thick stick of candy, colored pencils, and a rectangular wooden prayer tablet with ribbon.

I am very happy that I did this with my daughter, though when I first started thinking about it, I was intimidated by all the details. I received exactly all the help and guidance I needed, and I am so grateful to Sato-san and his family! (Their daughter was born on the same day in the same mid-wife clinic as my daughter, which is how we became friends.)
P.S. Sakaki tree, Cleyera ochnacea, is sacred "God's tree" in shinto religion

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