Shichigosan: A Japanese Keiki's Rite of Passage

Nov 13, 2017

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

In Japanese tradition, mid-November marks a rite of passage celebration for the youngest of Japanese. The centuries-old tradition was brought to Hawaiʻi with the influx of Japanese laborers in the late 1800s. HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has this story.

Coming of age, in Japanese tradition, comes a lot earlier than one might think.

“I’m seven, and my name is Josiah Haruyoshi Kaneko.” 

Josiah Kaneko (right) and his brother Eli (left) in their kimonos for shichigosan.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

At a whopping 7-years-old Josiah and his 5-year-old brother Eli are being dressed in kimono in preparation for their Shinto blessing – an official rite of passage for young Japanese children.

“Their father, Josiah and Eli’s father did this when he was their age. And he’s now 36 (years-old),” says Grandma Naomi Kaneko.

3-year-old Maia Goden is dressed in kimono.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

The Kanekos are one of more than a hundred families celebrating Shichigosan at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaiʻi in Mōʻiliʻili.

”Shichigosan or 7-5-3, it’s a coming-of-age ceremony basically children turning or are already 3, 5, or 7 would come here or to one of the local shrines to get dressed up and blessed,” says Derrick Iwata, the center’s education and cultural specialist.

Young Japanese girls receive a blessing from a Shinto priest from the Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawai'i.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“So the blessing is for the children to have good health and a long life,” says Iwata.

In Japan, Shichigosan is celebrated every November 15 as a day of prayer for the healthy growth of young children.

“This tradition actually stems from Meiji era Japan,” says Iwata, “And so when the immigrants came to Hawai’i and started having children they wanted to continue that.”

Emiko Goya (left) poses alongside her daughter Naomi Kaneko and her great-grandsons Eli (middle) and Josiah (right).
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

That was the case for 93-year-old Emiko Goya’s father who came to Hawai’i from Hiroshima. As a child growing up on the Big Island, Goya too dressed up in kimono and had her shichigosan blessing.

“I went through the same thing in Hilo. At the Japanese center in Hilo,” says Goya.

90-year-old Helen Tsuchiya snaps photos of her great-grandnieces to commemorate their rite of passage in the Japanese tradition of shichigosan.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

Today, Goya gets to see her great-grandsons Josiah and Eli, who we met earlier, do the same.

“For the grandparents, to see their children to be dressed up in traditional Japanese wear. I think it brings a sense of pride to them,” says Iwata.

“The hope is that they remember and they take the tradition with them as a form of blessing,” says Kaneko.