Turning 3 in Japan

Maybe it’s their chubby faces or the way their mothers dress them in panda outfits and Totoro costumes. Whatever the reason, I’ve always thought that Japanese children are the most adorable, precious little beings.

There are many festivals in Japan to celebrate children and pray for their happiness and wellbeing as they grow up. One of the first traditional celebrations a Japanese person will experience takes place when they are just 3 years old. ‘Shichi-go-san’ is a festival where 7 year old girls, 5 year old boys and 3 year old girls and boys dress up in kimonos – making them even cuter than they already are – and visit a shrine.

At the end of November, I had the privilege of joining a friend’s 3-year-old niece, Amane, and her family as they celebrated the 753 Festival at a local shrine in Tokyo.

We were ushered into the offering hall by the priest at the appointed time, and sat down in front of the altar. In the front row, was Amane, her mother, father, grandmother and baby brother. In the back row, was me, her older brother and aunt. It was an intimate affair! The ceremony began with the priest welcoming us and waving a white paper streamer to cleanse the offerings and bless us. We bowed a few times and clapped our hands, the priest did some chanting, and Amane and her dad placed branches wrapped in white paper on the altar. The priest gave Omiki (ceremonial sake) to the parents, then we all stood and each received a small dish of sake. The ceremony concluded with Amane being given her Chitose-ame, a long envelope that contains candy. It was fairly short – probably long enough for children that young – and was quite formal. It was fascinating for me since it was the first time I’d actually entered a shrine hall and witnessed a 753 ceremony. And of course it was particularly special since I know the family.

We had a lot of fun taking photos after the ceremony. Amane has such a playful, cheerful nature and was constantly running around! Her big brother is the best brother and I loved watching them interact. Such a beautiful, close-knit family.

The kimono Amane was wearing had been passed down through the generations. My friend had also worn it at her 753 ceremony, and we compared the two photos side by side – even though she is my friend’s niece, the resemblance was uncanny!

At the top of the kimono’s sleeve is the family’s crest, while at the bottom of the sleeves and kimono are pictures of temari, colourful, embroidered balls that symbolize friendship and loyalty, and are given to children by their parents for good luck. In Amane’s hair were two hair pieces made from kimono fabric in Kyoto. The strawberries match the hifu vest and the slippers. For many 3-year-olds, this is the very first time they wear a kimono and have to walk in these slippery sandals. Amane did a good job of walking in them, but I have seen a few kids tripping and falling over in the past!

Omedetō gozaimashita, Amane-chan. I wish you a bright and happy future ♡




In Japanese, shichi is seven, go is five, and san is three. Shichi-go-san is a rite of passage for children who turn 7, 5, and 3 years old. It’s been celebrated in Japan for about 700-800 years! The festival is officially on November 15, but families visit the shrine to pay their respects on the weekends before and after. The children get dressed up in exquisite, colourful kimono, complete with beautiful hairstyles and other accessories. They really look like living dolls – both the boys and girls. Not only do the kids dress up, but the parents and grandparents do too. You could be forgiven for thinking they were all going to a wedding!

On the weekend, I visited Zenkoji Shrine in Nagano city. I had no idea there would be children celebrating 7-5-3, but as soon as I saw the first couple of kids wearing kimono, I figured it out straight away. I, as well as everyone else, couldn’t help but ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at all the little ones. My favourites were one cheeky 5 year old boy with a mohawk, dressed in a kimono with a fierce tiger image on the back! (I didn’t get a photo unfortunately); a tiny boy who looked just like a doll, and was definitely younger than three!; and the sweetest little girl eating her ice-cream. But they were all so precious! I think it’s one of the sweetest customs in Japan.

Parents become paparazzi!

If you’re in Japan, keep your eyes peeled at shrines over the next few weekends!