Language and Culture - Japan

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A reference blog for those currently studying Japanese and those interested in it culture, both old and new.
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Now I bet most of you have heard of the famous ‘Coming of Age Day’ (Seijin no Hi・成人の日) which celebrates youths transition into adulthood at the tender age of 20. But here is a celebration which I have noticed most people outside of Japan are not so familiar with, 7-5-3 (Shichi-Go-San・七-五-三) which happens every year on November 15.

7-5-3 (Shichi-Go-San・七-五-三) is day which both celebrates and prays for the growth of healthy children. The significance of the ages 7, 5 and 3 are that they are the celebrated milestone years for children in Japan. Much like how many eastern countries celebrate certain ages, i.e. 3, 10, 13 and 16.

The reasons for these particular ages, dates back to the “medieval” times of samurai and aristocrats families (web-japan.org), these ages saw the following:

  • 3 years old: Both boys and girls of 3 years stopped having their hair shaven and were permitted to grow their hair out.
  • 5 years old: Boys of 5 years could don a ‘hakama’ in public for the first time.
  • 7 years old: Girl could begin using an ‘obi’ sash to tie their kimonos instead of the cords at the age of 7.

By the time of the Edo period (1603-1868) the ‘common’ folk of Japan were also celebrating these customs and began to visit shrines with prayers and offering for their children’s healthy growth. This custom/celebration is not a part of a holiday thus people celebrating this day can often be seen at the shrine the weekend before or after November 15th (ginkoya.com).

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“n – a Buddist guardian of children and travellers or statues of him. Usually in the form of じぞうさま. These statues are found in temples and all over Japan at roadside or on paths.” – Oxford Japanese Minidictoinary, © Jonathan Bunt 2000, 2001, pg 103.

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The Jizo / Ojizousama is one of Japans most loved Japanese divinities, as he is affiliated with protection and the saving of “lost” souls. More commonly the souls of children who have passed before ‘their time’.  It is said that Ojizousama helps babies, still borns and children’s souls to pass onto the afterlife, saving them from an eternity of piling stones on the banks of the Sanzu River (a river which is believed to have to be crossed in order to reach the afterlife). In doing so he hides the young souls in his cloak, protecting them from demons and carrying them across.

It is quite common to find these statues in cemeteries, temples and on roadsides/paths and sometimes accompanied with little stones, pebbles and/or coins. These little offerings are given as thanks for saving/protecting someone or in hopes that this divinity with aid someone lost.  
Ojizousama is also believed to be the protector of travellers, or dousojin, and Firefighters.
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