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Shichi-go-san (七五三)

Have you heard of the Japanese festival, Shichi-go-san (七五三), held every year in November? If you know a little Japanese, you'll probably know that it literally means "seven five three".

Now, you might be scratching your head asking yourself how three seemingly random numbers represent a festival. Well, the festival celebrates the health and longevity of girls aged three and seven, and boys aged five. The children dress in traditional Japanese clothes – for girls, a kimono and a hifu (a vest-like garment); for boys, a hakama (pant-like kimono) and a haori (a formal overcoat).



When celebrating Shichi-go-san children make their debut at a shrine decked out in these traditional Japanese clothes and participate in a Shinto purification ceremony to pray for a long and happy life. It is an important rite of passage and was, at first, celebrated by the imperial courts and by affluent families but eventually spread across Japan in the 17th Century.



However, this festival has rather inauspicious origins. It used to be that infant mortality was high and children were thought of as being "on loan" from God. For a child not to even reach the age of seven was not uncommon. Unlike this festival's origins, the numbers three, five and seven are auspicious so the festival came about so that families could celebrate their children reaching these ages.

Synonymous with this festival is "chitose ame 
(千歳飴)", a traditional Japanese candy, consisting of long sticks of stretched red and white hard candy. The reason for it being red and white is that it's believed this pairing ("kouhaku") brings good luck, representing a wish for a longevity. A three-year old will be given three sticks of candy, matching their age, and so on for the five- and seven-year-olds.

The day will most likely include professional photos to commemorate the event and a family meal.

Hopefully you will have a chance one day to see children all dressed up and looking really adorable as they celebrate Shichi-go-san.