In keeping with our series celebrating the diversity of Toronto’s cultural make-up, Toronto “Fallidays” today we are looking at a traditional Japanese celebration that will be going on around our city on Tuesday November 15. This is a big day for children of Japanese descent; Shichi-Go-San, the traditional rite-of-passage festival that celebrates the growth and well-being of children literally means, Seven-Five-Three, and the festival is often called that in English. Three and five year old boys and three and seven year old girls are celebrated during the festival, and prayers and well-wishes are bestowed upon the little ones, wishing them long life and a healthy and happy future. It is celebrated on the fifteenth because 3+5+7=15.
Any or all of three ceremonies may be observed during Shichi –Go-San. Kamioki, Hakamagi-no-Gi and Obitoki-no-Gi. Kamioki means “hair leaving.” Leave the kid’s hair alone! Traditionally a toddler’s hair is shaved or kept short up until they are three years old. This is supposed to encourage luxuriant growth. After a child’s third birthday the hair is permitted to grow, and this is celebrated during the rite of Kamioki.
Hakamagi-no-Gi is the ceremony for boys turning five. This is the first time they are allowed to wear formal attire, big boys clothes; the traditional formal loose-fitting trousers a hakama and a haori, the formal coat. The donning of these formal clothes also symbolizes a passage from little boy to big boy, on his way to becoming an adult.
Obitoki-no-Gi. Kamioki is for girls turning seven. This is the first time that they are allowed to wear the obi, the broad sash for a kimono. Tying the sash is complicated-too complicated for six year olds! So this represents a “growing-up” rite of passage.
Shichi-Go-San often involves a visit to a shrine, where prayers are offered for the well-being and good-fortune of the child. After visiting the shrine the kids get a special treat, a candy known as chitose-ame, “thousand years candy.” It is a long candy stick, a baton that is presented its own special bag, adorned with images of a turtle and a crane, animals that represent longevity, so this represents the parents’ wish for long lives and prosperity for their children.
For many these days, Shichi-Go-San is observed less strictly, and is often observed as just a day to celebrate, dress-up, take pictures and make a fuss over the little ones, but still gives a nod to the history of honour and respect bestowed upon children; Shichi-Go-San dates all the way back to the eight century. Plus the wee ones still get the candy, so it’s a pretty exciting day!
In the history of Western society children have not always been so esteemed; many of us-or our parents- grew up in a “spare the rod spoil the child” culture, where children “should be seen and not heard,” and the Dickensian horrors of child labour and workhouses are only a few generations behind us, so it is wonderful to see a culture that celebrates and honours children. Surely learning the best there is to know about other cultures’ peaceful practices and traditions, and applying some of them to our own must be a good thing.