Shichi-go-san

Japan is a land of many things – from anime to cherry blossoms, and ramen to sushi – but above all, Japan is a land of tradition. Japanese culture is full of it. Both children and adults participate in fun traditions. There is one called Setsubun in February where children throw soybeans at their parents – who are dressed as Japanese ogre or demon known as an “Oni”. There is even a tradition of Yamayaki (山焼き) in Nara. Yamayaki literally translates to “mountain burning”, and is the burning of the dead grass on Mount Wakakusa each January. Though its origin is debated, Yamayaki is now a traditional festival that includes fireworks and is viewed from several nearby locations every year.

There are also several traditions during pregnancy through adult-hood for children. One such tradition is Oshichiya – announcing the name of the child seven days after the child is born. Things continue with special events for girls and boys depending on either age or time of year until they’re twenty years old. One of the biggest traditions is “Shichi-go-san”.

Every year for over one thousand years a festival is held on November 15 to celebrate the growth and well-being of young children. Shichi-go-san literally means “seven-five-three”, and is celebrated the year girls turn three or seven, and boys turn five (less commonly for boys, also at three). Although the age part can be a bit confusing as the traditional way to calculate age in Japan was that a child is one the day they’re born, and gain a year each New Year’s Day, so the children would be a year younger using modern age calculation.

While the tradition has changed over time and some families do opt for a more western wardrobe, today children still typically dress in kimonos – most for the first time. Three-year-old girls also wear a kifu – a padded vest – with their kimono. One thing that has become increasingly popular over the last few decades is the shift from simply taking the children to a shrine or festival to also having photos taken.

After moving to Japan, our family decided to embrace the culture as we navigate and try to fit in. As a “gaijin” family, some things are more difficult than others. Thankfully, getting prepped for our photos was much easier than expected. You see, many Japanese people don’t know how to put a kimono on, and we were utterly lost. Upon shopping for a kimono for our five-year-old son, we happened upon a kimono shop called Gokaya.

The shop owner not only had the perfect kimono for our son, but she also offered to dress our son and our three-year-old daughter the day we were going to take photos – for free.

After the kids were dressed we rode our bikes over to Showa Kinen Park. Showa has a fantastic Japanese Garden where we wanted to take our photos.

When we arrived the kids sat on a bench while eating snacks. (As an aside, parenting pro-tip: bring snacks to your photoshoots.) We had at least a dozen people stop and request to take pictures of our kids. My oldest son (8 years old) even joked that we should start charging the people for the photos.

I asked a friend to take a few photos of the whole family, so a special thank you to “Jay” for traveling an hour by train to help me out!

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