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!

And So It Begins Again…

Back to school, back to school! It’s the first week of the new school year here in Japan. Every year, schools start with a 始業式 (opening ceremony) and 入学式 (entrance ceremony). Even though the school I teach at is a combined Junior High School and High School, they are considered two separate ‘schools’. The students physically stay in the same school, but things like their uniform changes – the girls wear a different coloured skirt, and the boys change the buttons on their jackets. The Opening Ceremony is for continuing students, which in my school’s case is JHS 2nd and 3rd grades, and HS 2nd and 3rd grades. At this ceremony, the new teachers are introduced and homeroom teachers are announced as well. While the Entrance Ceremony, held on the next day, is for students entering the new ‘schools’ – JHS 1st grade and HS 1st grade. All the parents are invited to attend and it’s much more formal and official. In the gym, which is decked out in red and white celebratory banners, the Principal says a (long!) speech, everyone sings the national anthem, the students sing the school song, the PTA says a few words, the homeroom teachers are announced, and the brass band performs while the students exit the gym at the end. It lasts about an hour, then everyone goes outside to take photos under the sakura trees! Last year the cherry blossoms peaked in March, so by the time the Entrance Ceremony came around, there were no flowers left on the trees – very unfortunate! Luckily this year, they bloomed a bit later, and there were plenty of flowers for all those photo hungry parents!

入学式 ' Entrance Ceremony'
入学式 ‘ Entrance Ceremony’
Red and white banner wraps around the gym
Red and white banner wraps around the gym
Students bow to the principal
Students bow to the principal
On stage: Principals on the left, PTA on the right
On stage: Principals on the left, PTA on the right. It’s more common to use traditional dates in Japan – so instead of 2014, it’s year Heisei 26.
Sakura-lined entrance
Sakura-lined entrance
View from above. You can just see some students having their photos taken.
View from above. You can just see some students having their photos taken.

One for the Gals

There are loads of holidays in Japan that celebrate everything from the Emperor to sports to the ocean! There’s a day for the oldies, called keiro no hi; a day for the lads, called Kodomo no hi; and a day for the gals, called Hinamatsuri. Strangely, there’s no “parents’ day” and mothers’ day and fathers’ day are not really recognized.

If you hadn’t guessed already, it just so happens that today is Girls’ Day (also known as Doll’s Day)! **Cue music: Beyoncé “Who run the world? Girls!”** Every year on March 3, girls are given a special day to thank them for being the most amazing, wonderful creatures! (just kidding). No, the day is actually to pray for the growth and well-being of young girls. The main feature of the celebration is a doll display. There are lots of different sizes of displays, but all have the Emperor and Empress on the top tier. Below them, you can see the court ladies, musicians, ministers, lots of sake and sweets, and at the very bottom is furniture belonging to the royal family. When a girl is born in Japan, it is tradition for the grandparents to give the family a doll display, which will be put up in their home every year. It gets set up some time in February, and MUST be taken down on March 3 otherwise it is bad luck, and consequently the daughters will get married late!

It’s a very sweet tradition, and over the years has become more and more commercialized. These days you can even see bakeries with hinamatsuri cakes. They are so delicious! The hina dolls have been reproduced through Hello Kitty, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and many other popular characters, too!

Here are some photos I’ve taken in the past few years, at friends’ houses and at public venues.

Celebration Time!

Wow, it’s March tomorrow! It is crazy how fast time flies! This month signifies the end of many things in Japan, such as the fiscal year and school year. In March, the weather starts to get warmer, and people become more relaxed as the year winds down and they can start to look forward to the new working year.

Tomorrow, the graduation ceremony for the high school seniors will be held. 2014 also marks 10 years since I graduated high school. Pretty insane! I can still remember the feeling of excitement of finishing school and moving out of home! Although it’s not common for Japanese teenagers to move out of home after high school or even university, unless they get married, I know the students must be feeling such a sense of relief and accomplishment right now. Kids in Japan do an incredible amount of study so that they can pass the arduous university entrance tests. Their future paths have been decided for now, but the world truly is their oyster!  I wish them all the best of luck!! If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past 10 years, it’s that you should never give up on your dreams – ‘hope’ drives us and pushes us to do our best. You might have hope that you’ll get a certain opportunity, find a better job, meet a special someone; whatever it is, so long as you keep the dream alive, it will come to fruition, albeit not always when you want it to happen! 

As is tradition in Japan, parents often show their appreciation for teachers through gifts. These pictures are of some special ‘thank you’ presents that the graduates’ parents organized for all the teachers. Rosé wine and manju (red bean paste sweets) with the school emblem. So lovely! The manju are red (pink) and white for a reason… These are the colours of celebration in Japan. Both at the graduation and opening ceremony, big red and white banners are put up in the school. Other places you can see red and white are at weddings, the New Year’s Eve TV music show called Kohaku (lit. red and white), and of course the Japanese flag!