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Tokyo’s cutest festival in November: Shichi-Go-San!

Sundays at Harajuku are special.

Sundays are when many Japanese are known to dress in cosplay costumes and hang out at Harajuku. Sundays are especially special at Meiji Shrine, because there’s a good chance you’ll come across a traditional Japanese wedding procession.

On the Sunday that I went Meiji Shrine, I saw more than one wedding procession. I also saw the annual chrysanthemum exhibition. More importantly, it was also Shichi-Go-San festival!

(Update: I removed many photos from this post as a form of respect for their privacy.)

Meiji Shrine gave me so many pleasant surprises that day!

Meiji Shrine, Tokyo

This is the gravel path that leads people towards Meiji Shrine, which is deep inside the forest. I had quietly followed the trio with the girl wearing the red cap, all the way from the train station, because I didn’t really know where Meiji Shrine was located at. I presumed they were going to the shrine too! Because they had been looking at the same map as me at the train station. When in doubt while travelling solo, I always follow the crowd, hehe.

path towards Meiji Shrine | Shichi-Go-San: Tokyo's most colourful festival in November • The Petite Wanderess

Walking in towards Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, sakeAlong the way, you’ll also see these barrels of sake wrapped in straw. Each year, these barrels are offered to the enshrined deities at Meiji Jingu: Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Donated by members of Meiji Jingu Nationwide Sake Brewers Association, they express deep respect. This was because the late royal couple had supported and led the industrial growth and modernization of Japan.

Here we are. Meiji Shrine.

Meiji Shrine entrance | Shichi-Go-San: Tokyo's most colourful festival in November • The Petite Wanderess

I was looking around, getting a feel of the surroundings when out of nowhere…

This little girl, dressed in colorful, Japanese traditional costume came into my sight.

Shichi-Go-San: Tokyo's most colourful festival in November • The Petite WanderessAs I looked around, I noticed more and more little Japanese children being dressed this way. What’s going on? I had no idea, a result of ‘spontaneous trips where I just barely do research. But what a nice surprise! I was all excited and went around taking photos of these little kids.

Turned out that I’d stumbled upon a traditional Japanese festival called Shichi-Go-San (7-5-3).

A unique festival in Tokyo in November: Shichi-Go-San!

What’s Shichi-Go-San?

Falling on 15th November (or the closest Sunday) yearly, Shichi-Go-San is a day celebrated for girls aged 3 and 7, and boys aged 3 and 5.

These ages are celebrated because odd numbers are seen as lucky to the Japanese, and also because the 3 ages are deemed as important stage markers for a child’s growth. On this day, prayers are made at a Shinto shrine for the healthy and happy futures for the children.

At age 3, a ceremony called kamioki (髪置き), children are allowed to let their hair grow out instead of it being shaved constantly as per past traditional customs. At age 5, a young boy gets to wear his first hakama pants in public. The ceremony is called “hakamagi-no-gi” (袴着の儀), associated with roles and responsibilities.

At age 7, a young girl wears her first obi as a broad sash for the kimono instead tying with cords. This method is more ornamental and tedious, symbolizing the transition to womanhood. This ceremony is called “obitoki-no-gi” (帯解きの儀).

After the visit, parents will also buy a long, thin, red-and-white candy, called chitose-ame (“thousand year candy”) for their children, which you can see in some of my photos below. This candy comes in a paper bag decorated with crane and turtle illustrations, representing wishes of health and longevity from the parents.

Today, the 3 ceremonies are not always carried out, but a visit to the shrine for prayers and gratitude remains!

Was very happy to be able to witness this interesting Shichi-Go-San festival! Shichi-Go-San takes place on Nov 15 every year, and families will bring the children to a Shinto shrine on the weekend closest to Nov 15.

If you’ll be in Tokyo during these November weekends, I hope you enjoy being a viewer at this Shichi-Go-San festival just like I did!

 Visited: Nov 2012
Meiji Shrine is at 1-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-8557, Japan. To get there, take train to Harajuku Station, then walk to Meiji Shrine. Admission is free.
Read more about Meiji Shrine here.
Credits: Festival information gathered from these sites: Japan Visitor | Zooming Japan | Go Japan Go | Kids Web Japan

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    1. My pleasure, Brooke! I had to read up what it was all about afterward, cos it was so unexpected and so delightful to discover! No one ever mentioned this festival to me before this

  1. Hey Kristine,

    This is so sweet! I visited the Japan a couple of years ago during cherry blossom season and now I’m obsessed! This festival is so adorable! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Amy! Thank you for visiting my blog =) Cherry blossom is a lovely season to see Japan indeed! So is autumn, especially when this Shichi-Go-San is just too cute!

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