Shichi-Go-San (七五三, lit. "Seven-Five-Three") is a traditional rite of passage and festival day in Japan for three and seven year-old girls and three and five year-old boys, held annually on November 15. As Shichi-Go-San is not a national holiday, it is generally observed on the nearest weekend.
Shichi-Go-San is said to have originated in the Heian Period amongst court nobles who would celebrate the passage of their children into middle childhood. The ages three, five and seven are consistent with Japanese numerology, which dictates that odd numbers are lucky. The practice was set to the fifteenth of the month during the Kamakura Period.
Over time, this tradition passed to the samurai class who added a number of rituals. Children—who up until the age of three were required by custom to have shaven heads—were allowed to grow out their hair. Boys of age five could wear hakama for the first time, while girls of age seven replaced the simple cords they used to tie their kimono with the traditional obi. By the Meiji Period, the practice was adopted amongst commoners as well, and included the modern ritual of visiting a shrine to drive out evil spirits and wish for a long healthy life.
The tradition has changed little since the Meiji Period. While the ritual regarding hair has been discarded, boys who are aged three or five and girls who are aged three or seven are still dressed in kimono—many for the first time—for visits to shrines. Three-year-old girls usually wear hifu (a type of padded vest) with their kimono. Western-style formal wear is also worn by some children. A more modern practice is photography, and this day is well known as a day to take pictures of children.
Chitose Ame (千歳飴), literally "thousand year candy", is given to children on Shichi-Go-San. Chitose Ame is long, thin, red and white candy, which symbolizes healthy growth and longevity. It is given in a bag with a crane and a turtle on it, which represent long life in Japan. Chitose Ame is wrapped in a thin, clear, and edible rice paper film that resembles plastic.
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