I happened to be at a flea market last weekend which took place near Hakozaki Shrine. Besides all the wonderful trinkets, antiques and crafts to look at, all these adorable children were dressed up in beautiful traditional outfits. I then remembered that this was the time of year when most families take their young children to the shrine for blessings. I started taking pictures as the families made their way to the shrine.
The festival is called Shichi-go-san (7-5-3). It is celebrated by parents when their children turn 3, 5 and 7 years old. Odd numbers in Japan are considered lucky, and these early years are considered critical for a child. It’s basically a day to pray for the healthy growth of your child and to wish them a long and happy life. The original date of the festival was November 15th, but now it happens anytime during the month of November (I’ve even seen it occur during other times of the year). It all started some 1300 years ago, but back then only the families of nobles and samurai participated. Commoners didn’t start taking their children until the Edo Period (1600-1860).
Girls aged 3 and 7 get to dress in kimono. At age 7, the girl is allowed to wear an obi for the first time. Boys get to go at the age of 5 and get to wear haori jackets and hakama (pleated, but divided) trousers for the first time in public. I asked the parents of one of the boys if I could take his picture, and he was so excited and proud. He immediately started showing off his outfit front and back.
The family takes the child to a shrine where they pay a priest to say some prayers. After the ceremony is over it is customary for the parents to buy long sticks of hard candy (chitose-ame) for the child which is placed in a bag decorated with cranes and turtles (cranes and turtles symbolize longevity). My last stop before heading home that day was the shrine and I was able to get a few more pictures of some children – including a 3 year old girl whose parents were teaching her to make a peace sign. She eventually got it and she was so happy!
Their outfits are incredibly beautiful, and I’ve seen the astronomical prices of some in the kimono shops. It use to be a very expensive occasion for families, but now most families just rent the outfits for a much more reasonable cost.