Traditionally held on November 15, the Shichigosan (七五三, literally 7-5-3) ceremony is a rite that originated around 750 AD in the Heian period to celebrate the passage into middle childhood for children in Japan. Back in those times, it was considered a blessing from the gods if a child made it past their 6th birthday due to the poor health conditions prevalent at the time. To distance themselves from the grief of losing babies, people believed their kids were the offspring of the gods until they turned 7; only then were they considered “earthly beings.”
This coincided with a number of old traditions: Children’s heads were shorn close-cropped until after the age of three (it didn’t matter the sex of the child), boys could wear hakama pants at the age of five, and girls aged seven could finally tie their kimono with more ornate obi, graduating from the simple cord used until then. Also, the odd numbers of 7, 5, and 3 are considered lucky numbers by lore, and so the ritual of visiting a local shrine to ward off evil spirits and invite luck into one’s life was also added.
These days, girls dress in kimono; boys as well; however, they are sometimes also dressed in western-style formal suits with short pants instead depending on the family. Girls age 3 and 7, along with 5-year-old boys, will be seen around shrines with their families during the weekends around this time, taking pictures and enjoying (or complaining about) their traditional garb.
Sometimes, due to an old method of calculating age in Japan where you are considered one year old at the time of birth, girls who have already turned or will turn two and six, or boys have already turned or will turn four during the calendar year will also attend. (As an aside, “one year old at birth” is the official system in Korea!)
Most people choose only to walk up to the shrine, toss in some coins, pray, and keep it moving. This is also an excellent opportunity to teach your little one how to do this as well. It’s more of a “coming out” party for the children and a photo op for parents and family.
Of course! There are kimono rental shops everywhere in Japan, and most shrines will have amenities like free parking and special areas for those participating in the ceremony. Just inquire at your local shrine to see when their Shichigosan ceremonies are. While mid-November is the traditional date, many shrines perform the ceremony at other times throughout the year.
Many photo studios located immediately adjacent to larger shrines have all-inclusive photoshoots arranged in cooperation with the shrine, so be sure to check around for those as well.
— Images by Jason L. Gatewood