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 ♡

 

 

Tanabata: Legend of the Stars

Long, long ago, there lived a princess named Orihime. She was the daughter of a god of the heavens, and lived by a vast river of stars known to us as the Milky Way. She diligently wove cloth to make clothes for the people in her kingdom.

One day, her father realised Orihime was no longer a little girl, but a young woman who longed to be in love. Wishing to see his daughter happy, he set out to find her a suitable partner.

After searching high and low, he came across a boy tending his cow by the bank of the river. His name was Hikoboshi. He was a noble, hard-working young man. It was inevitable that as soon as he and Orihime met, they would fall in love. Before long, they were married and enjoying life to its fullest.

However, the couple were having so much fun together that they neglected to do their work. Without Orihime, the people’s clothes became ragged. Without Hikoboshi, his cow became weak and sick. The celestial god became very angry at the pair for their recklessness. He decided the best solution would be to have them live apart, on opposite sides of the river. Hikoboshi was sent to the east side, and Orihime was sent to the west. The separation devastated them.

Seeing Orihime so sad was hard for her father. So, the god made one final decision. Once a year, on the night of the 7th day of the 7th month, Orihime was permitted to see her beloved husband. Over the years, Orihime worked tirelessly on her loom and Hikoboshi took great care of his animals. Their love stayed strong and they worked hard knowing they had this one special day to look forward to.

***

This tale of Orihime (Vega star) and Hikoboshi (Altair star) was originally adapted from a Chinese legend. Today, it is celebrated as a traditional festival known as Tanabata.

At Zojo Temple in Tokyo, a special display made up of hundreds of candle-lit paper lanterns was set up last week on July 7th. These lanterns represented the Milky Way ‘river’. It was beautiful with Tokyo Tower in the background! As well as the river, hundreds of lanterns decorated by elementary school children were also displayed. Their drawings depicted what they want to be in the future – bakers, dressmakers, teachers, train drivers, Anpanman! Many of the children came to the temple with their parents. It was so touching seeing them earnestly search for and find their creations!

As a custom of Tanabata, people write their wishes and prayers on colourful strips of paper and tie them to bamboo tree branches. Ceremonies are conducted at many shrines and temples, like Kanda-Myojin Shrine, where musicians play traditional instruments, girls perform a traditional dance, and priests pray for all of our wishes to come true.

Happy Graduation, Kids!

It’s been a hectic past couple of weeks! I’ve had visitors in town, went on a long-weekend snowboarding trip, moved apartments, gone to dinners and parties… and somehow between all that, I also fit in going to work :-P With spring break coming up, I’m definitely looking forward to some down time!

We’ve come to the end of the school year in Japan. All regular classes are finished, and the students are now doing their final exams – which means lots of marking to look forward to! I always feel that third (final) term has a different mood than the other two terms. It’s only 7 weeks long, and is therefore a bit rushed as we try to cram as much knowledge into our students as we can! So much to learn, so little time! The school also becomes a bit quieter because the seniors no longer have classes. They are off studying in preparation for university, or getting ready to make the big move away from the care of teachers and the safety of high school. I distinctly remember that feeling of eagerness when I finished high school, and am so excited for them and their future! Some of them have told me their dreams are to become engineers, doctors, singers, pilots, and baseball players! While others still don’t really know what they want to do. That’s the beauty of life – you can never really plan the future anyway! I’ve changed my mind about what job I want to do many times, and there is still lots I want to try before settling into one career. The important thing is to make good choices for you and have fun along the way, right!?

On Sunday, the seniors had their graduation ceremony. The auditorium was packed with parents of the 250-odd students. The fathers wore suits while some mothers wore beautiful kimonos. The students don’t get a graduation cap or anything, but each receive a certificate from the principal on stage. It took over an hour to get through all of them! They decided to put a live video camera on the big screen to show the students’ faces to the audience. It made for some cheeky ‘camera loving’ which had their classmates cheering and the audience in tears! Luckily the principal, who’s usually pretty stern, didn’t seem to mind. After all the certificates were given out, there was a long procession of speeches and A LOT of synchronised bowing! Their graduation song, which had all the parents pulling out their video cameras, was a popular Japanese graduation and choir song called “Tabidachi no hi ni”. It’s a beautiful song about going off into the future and reaching for your dreams. Finally, the ceremony was wrapped up with a cute and fun video presentation of the highlights from the students’ school trips and events over the past few years. It’s crazy to think how young and innocent they were not that long ago!!

Congratulations and good luck, kids! May your future be a great adventure!

HS graduation