Shichi-Go-San / Seven-Five-Three


Stumbling across a traditional rite of passage for young children way out in the ‘burbs

A few weeks back I ended up wandering about Hachioji, a city out in west Tokyo. I had originally intended to go to a big autumn festival, but en route decided that the crowds were no doubt going to be insane and so changed my plan to just walk about and get lost. While pottering about the backstreets I spotted a father walking hand-in-hand with his daughter (above) who were both dressed up in their Sunday best. Usually this type of dress is reserved for graduation ceremonies, and with it only being November I was curious to know what was happening. I followed the sound of traditional music to a neighbouring shrine and was told that a small festival was happening and would I like to come in and take a look.

As it turns out, this was Shichi-Go-San (literally “Seven-Five-Three”) – a traditional rite of passage held annually on 15 November to celebrate the growth and well-being of young children. At this festival, children are honored by their families and blessed at a Shinto shrine. Shinto is a very old religion that many people in Japan still follow. In this religion, people believe that ages three, five, and seven are important times of growth and health in a child’s life. They also believe that odd numbers, especially three, five, and seven, are lucky numbers. So children who live past these ages are thought to be lucky.

The event was low-key but exactly what I wanted that day – a stark contrast to the crowds I would have faced at the bigger festival. And as cheesy as it sounds, as I stood at the shrine in the autumn sun, I was thankful to be in Japan.


Parents registering their children’s names


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