In Japan, we have several traditional rites of passage called “TSŪKA GIREI” (通過儀礼). Each celebration is made once a life, such as to pray for sound growth of a child, to admit his/her entrance into adulthood, to drive away bad luck at a turning point of his/her life, to vow eternal love and make a connection with others, etc…
In fact, though I call it “celebration”, each of them should be made solemnly as they are all performed toward the god.
Today, I’d like to introduce some of these celebrations by age in Japan.
“OSHICHI-YA” literally means seventh night.
When we give a name to our child, it is done usually within 3 to 14 days after the birth.
Traditionally, a name is given by the family of baby and the family celebrates the birth at the seventh night after the birth, calling “OSHICHI-YA”.
At this celebration, a paper on which the name of newborn baby and his/her date of birth are written is put in “KAMIDANA” (神棚: a household Shinto altar) or “TOKONO-MA” (床の間: Japanese alcove).
For this auspicious date, we cook “SEKI-HAN” (赤飯: rice boiled with red beans). The rice is put in a box and leaves of plant called “NANTEN” (南天: Nandina domestica) is decollated as the sound “NANTEN” can also mean “turn misfortune into happiness” if written in different KANJI characters.
“OMIYA-MAIRI” means the first visit to shrine.
In about a month after the birth which is regarded to be the end of mourning (a delivery was thought to be impurity in ancient time), the family of newborn baby visit to a local shrine with the baby for the first time.
This is a ceremony to pray for protection of the baby by the guardian deity called “UBUSUA-GAMI (産土神) or “UJI-GAMI” (氏神) of the baby’s birthplace.
At the ceremony, farther side’s grandmother holds the baby with a special, non-tailored KIMONO called “NOSHIME” ( 熨斗目).
Ladies in the family wear formal KIMONO such as HŌMONGI usually.
After OMIYA-MAIRI, the family visits to “NAKŌDO” (仲人: a couple who played as a go-between at the marriage of the baby’s parents) to show the baby in some cases.
“OKUI-ZOME” literally means “first eating” and is a ceremony to pray for not having food problem in the entire life of the newborn baby, also called “HASHI-SOROE” (箸揃え: preparation of chopsticks”) or “OHASHI-ZOME” (お箸初め: first using of chopsticks).
This is performed 100-120 days after the birth. In the ceremony, we pretend the baby eats rice (as obviously, the baby cannot eat rice yet!).
The food for this ceremony consists of some auspicious dishes such as SEKI-HAN as mentioned above, grilled whole fish and some vegetables and soup.
In some regions, people let the baby carry “ISSHŌ-MOCHI” (一生餅: 1.8L of rice cakes) on his/her back to wish no lack of rice in life, and also a performance called “HAGATAME” (歯固め: make solid tooth) is done by bringing a couple of marbles toward the mouth of the baby, wishing a sound growth of the baby’s tooth.
There are also “SHICHIGOSAN” (七五三), “JŪSAN-MAIRI” (十三詣り) and “SEIJIN-SHIKI” (成人式), some of which I already mentioned in this blog. All of them are mainly to celebrate the age of 3,5,7,15,20 and thank to the god for the protection.
“YAKU-OTOSHI” means to get rid of evil.
In Japan, people believe that there are certain ages doomed to be unlucky in life: men at 10, 25, 42 and 61, women at 19, 33 and 60 years old.
These ages are regarded as a year with difficulties, statistically reported from ancient times by ONMYŌ-DŌ (陰陽道: Yin-Yang philosophy), so not the best ages to move actively being advised to remain prudent in one’s conduct.
Among these ages, especially 42 for men and 33 for women are called “TAI-YAKU” (大厄: the grand climacteric) so that people visit temples or shrines to participate in a rite to drive away evil spirit 3 years in a row, including the years before and after this TAI-YAKU.
During these year, OBI is regarded as a good gift for women as “something long” is considered as an escape from difficulties.
CHŌJU, GAJU (長寿, 賀寿)
“CHŌJU” or “GAJU” means longevity celebration.
The first celebration for longevity comes at the age of 61 in a traditional Japanese age counting system, it is 60 years old in usual calendar.
This ceremony is called “KAN-REKI” (還暦). The number 60 is coming from the calendar “JUKKAN-JŪNI-SHI” (十干十二支: the Chinese Sexagenary Cycle), so 60 years old is very important as it finishes one cycle of human life and restart another cycle.
In the ceremony, the 60 year-old person wears the auspicious red garment called “CHANCHAN-KO” and all the family celebrate the long life.
After 60, there also celebrations at 70 called “KOKI” (古希), 77 called “KIJU” (喜寿), 80 called “SANJU” (傘寿), 88 called “BEIJU” (米寿), 90 called “SOTSUJU” (卒寿) and 99 called “HAKUJU” (白寿). This custom to celebrate longevity is said to have started 400 to 500 years ago.
There will be similar celebrations in other countries but it might be interesting to have knowledge of such celebration in Japan as a country with the longest average length of life, isn’t it?