This time, we are exploring a bit subtler and definitely deeper aspect of Japanese culture. You might have noticed it if you have paid extremely close–and we mean close–attention to anime throughout the years. In fact, you probably have a better chance of knowing if you live or have lived in Japan during November.
Shichi-Go-San, while can be taken for the literal meaning of 7-5-3 is not about numbers, but rather about ages. This celebration held on the 15th of November every year, is to mark the girls who have turned three and seven years old that year and boys who have turned three and five years old that year. You may think “but why is this special? It’s just a birthday.” You are correct, however that is not all that there is to Shichi-Go-San as there is a deep cultural significance behind it.
Origins of Shichi-Go-San
Back more than 1000 years ago, the Heian Period, or Heian Jidai, was a time where Japanese literature and poetry were at their respective peaks, but it also marked a period, much like a lot of Japanese periods, where the imperial family had power in name, but the ones pulling the strings were the nobles. So, what do nobles do in every single setup in history to make themselves feel special? They make a ritual and thus Shichi-Go-San was born.
The jury is out on the specific reason as to why this has to be centered around the ages of three, five, and seven, and that of the three, only one overlaps between boys and girls, but it is said to be linked to Eastern Asian Numerology which believes odd numbers are lucky. This ceremony marked the graduation of younger children into middle childhood. Another theory is that in conjunction with this, there were battles, upheavals, and sickness which meant that families and children could be killed by any of them. While nobles were not likely to come across the first two, an illness could take down a small child if they were not strong enough. Thus, this tradition of a childhood graduation ceremony was born.
From the Heian Period Onward
While the Heian Period did run from 794-1185, the big basis for a lot of it comes from the following period Kamakura, which ran from 1185-1333. With the rise of samurai and feudalism in Japan, this ritual was further expanded upon by the samurai class and some of the influences, mostly for boys who turn five and girls who turn seven, you can still see today. However, the samurai only practiced it amongst themselves which meant that the majority of the population did not, and potentially could not. Under their stewardship, so to speak, boys who were there could stop having their heads shaven and grow out their hair. Girls did not see much but rather saw a jump at seven. At five, young boys were able to wear Hakama, and at age seven, girls were able to switch out the cords that were used with a kimono for a full-blown obi.
Skip forward to the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and it was here that the general population now could practice it. So, what they did was that they adopted a practice of going to a shrine and praying. The prayers were for a long, healthy life, as well as to keep away evil spirits.
Modern Day Shichi-Go-San
Now in modern day, the hair fashion has been lost for boys. In fact, a lot of the rules have been loosened. Boys tend to dress in hakama and girls wear kimono, regardless of age. This is now heightened even more with photoshoots becoming in vogue over the more recent decades. So, what senior pictures are to the US, are what Shichi-Go-San photoshoots are to Japanese families. If the family is rather traditional, even in this modern era, then they may follow what is called “Kazoedoshi” or what we know it to be as “East Asian Age Reckoning.” This is the belief that people think that you are already one-year-old when you are born–no idea why, since a mother carries a child for nine months and not 12, but anyway–and then you gain a year every lunar new year.
Other than that, there is one other thing that should be pointed out: Chitose Ame. Known as “the thousand year candy,” children are given this on Shichi-Go-San and there are two candy sticks inside. One is white and one is red. They symbolize healthy growth into adulthood and longevity. And that’s really all you need to know about Shichi-Go-San. The only other minor tidbit is that it is on November 15th that the holiday is celebrated, but since it is not a national holiday, i.e. everyone is off, usually shrines will hold this event throughout the month of November. It is a lot like how Hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year, can be done throughout January and does not necessarily have to be done on the first day.
Where has Shichi-Go-San shown up in anime? Surprisingly, not a lot of anime have it in them. There is one big one that is airing for Fall 2017 that actually had a whole bit of an episode about it, but other than that, it really just shows up in classic anime in flashes like Sazae-san, Chibi Maruko-chan, and even Crayon Shin-chan. It does get a card in the classic otaku anime Lucky Star, but that is a given since a lot of the show is extremely Japanese. So... what is that big show that has it? Follow on down to find out!
Hoozuki no Reitetsu 2nd Season (Cool-Headed Hoozuki)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: Oct 2017 – Dec 2017
Japanese Hell is a lot like you would expect it to be; it mirrors modern Japanese society well. Just… you know… it is Hell. There, the man in charge, or the demon in charge, Enma Daiou, judges the dead and sends them to one of the countless levels of Hell for suffering and punishment. However, the one oiling the cogs and making sure that the machine moves smoothly is Hoozuki. While he may seem like just another demon, he is anything but. Hoozuki has a calm demeanor and is able to get others to listen to him, but should you push his buttons, beware. Each day, he runs around Hell running it like a bureaucracy. Somewhere, someone needs his help and it is up to him to help out. How busy and difficult could eternal damnation be? A lot more than you think.
This is probably the only anime, and we say probably because you know someone is going to bring one up, but anyway, that we could find that actually fully visits the concept of Shichi-Go-San. The 6th Episode, which aired just before the real Shichi-Go-San, had half an episode dedicated to Children who are in Hell, but are really in Limbo. They are too young to realize what they have done; they wait for the Buddha to come and bring them to reincarnation. Anyway, here, throughout all of their waiting, there is a boy named Messiah who died at age seven. (No, Messiah is not a Japanese name. It is a kirakira name and we will eventually do an article about them.) Anyway, Hoozuki goes on a tangent about how children died frequently just a few decades ago, and that is why they are so celebrated nowadays. The anime depicts girls in kimono, boys in hakama, and chitose ame. There, you can get an idea of how to Shichi-Go-San applies to Japanese culture!
Hoozuki no Reitetsu PV
Shichi-Go-San has been around for centuries but that does not mean that it is going anywhere any time soon. While western holidays, especially Halloween and Easter as of late, are being adopted, things that are naturally Japanese, such as this tradition, will be celebrated for probably centuries to come. Especially with the declining birthrate, there will most likely be a greater pull to keep these traditions alive for as long as possible. So if you are ever in Japan in November, keep your eyes peeled for Japanese children dressing up in adorable traditional clothing in order to visit their shrines and pray for good health, longevity, and to keep evil spirits away. For all your anime, manga, gaming, and Japanese culture needs, be sure to keep it here with Honey’s Anime. Till next time!