Officially on November 15, shichi-go-san is nevertheless loosely celebrated throughout November and even October. At this time of year, parents request that a local Shinto shrine perform the oharai purification rite and norito prayer for the health of children ages 3, 5 and 7 years. People once calculated the age based on the ancient Japanese method of kazoedoshi. With kazoedoshi, a baby is 1 year old at birth and then becomes a year older every New Year’s day. However, parents now use the Western method to determine when they should take their children to Ujigami, the god of good health.
People believe the odd numbers 3, 5 and 7 bring good luck. Thus, those numbers symbolize important milestones in Japan. Originally, kids’ hair would be allowed to grow out when they turned 3 years old; kamioki (“leaving hair”). Then, at age 5, boys don their first hakama pleated trousers as part of the hakamagi, or donning celebration. Girls, meanwhile, celebrate their next milestone upon turning 7; in the obitoki rite, girls graduate from using straps to secure their kimonos to wearing obi sashes.
Like nearly all celebrations, shichi-go-san has its own special foods. In addition to shichi-go-san cakes, the more unique chitose ame crops up in the fall. This long, stick-shaped candy’s name chitose ame means something like “1,000-year” candy. It often comes in sets of white and pink, for good luck. Chitose ame comes in a paper bag bearing images of a crane and a turtle—symbols of longevity—as well as pine trees and bamboo, for luck.
Another food frequently served is sekihan. Long associated with the growth of children, sekihan is made from red mochi rice that’s steamed with red beans, or adzuki. While the people believe the color red contains the power to exorcise evil in Japan, you also see the color with festivity in Japan.