Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Japanese Birthday Celebrations: Schichi Go San, Ga no iwai

According to Japanese beliefs, certain ages are considered unlucky while others are perceived worthy of great celebrationDuring the "unlucky" years, rituals are practiced in an attempt to drive away bad luck. It is customary in these unlucky years to visit temples and shrines to provide protection from harm. The birthday person should wear red to bring good health, vitality, and long life. Bad luck ages, or yakudoshi ages, are considered 25 and 42 for men and 19 and 33 for women. 

Another Japanese tradition, referred to as Schichi Go San, or the "Seven-Five-Three" Festival, is observed on November 15th of every year. On this day, 5 year old boys as well as 3 and 7-year-old girls, dress in kimonos and are blessed by a Shinto priest. This blessing is done to ensure the continued health and well-being of the child. It was once believed that at these ages the children were prone to bad luck and the blessings were to provide protection, but now the observance has become regarded at a momentous rite of passage. 

Ga no iwai is another Japanese rite of passage celebrated in order to pray for a long life. This tradition was brought to Japan from China, and originally celebrated once every ten years beginning at age 40. After the 16th century, ga no iwai has come to be celebrated with the turning of 60 followed by ages 70, 77, 80, 90, and 99.

Turning 88 has become quite popular because when written together the numbers resemble the character for rice, which symbolizes purity and goodness in the Japanese culture. Due to this, turning 88 has become a joyous and happy occasion. 

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