In this country of numerous customs and traditions, rites of passage are taken very seriously. Between the time a child is born to when they reach adulthood, there are three (for boys) or five (for girls) major rites depending on the region.
The main rites are Omiya Mairi (first visit to shrine, one month after birth), Shichi-go-san (7-5-3 festival in November), Jusan Mairi (13 years old, usually around April 13th) and Seijin-shiki (20 years old, January 15).
Jusan Mairi is coming up on April 13th so we’ll start with it. Jusan Mairi celebrates a child’s 13th year, or the completion of one Chinese zodiac cycle. The rite originally started at Horin-ji in Kyoto (shown in photo), home to the kokuzo bosatsu, the god of wisdom. Traditionally, boys and girls who are 12 years old (13 by kazoe-doshi) visit the shrine or temple to give thanks for coming of age, and to pray for knowledge and good fortune.
At the shrine, the child writes a favorite kanji on a piece of paper and offers it to the gods. After some short prayers of blessing, they leave with their parents. It’s important that they do NOT look back at the shrine. Looking back will cause the child will lose all the knowledge he or she has just received!
Kimonos are worn to celebrate, congratulate and in times mourn a life, and play an important role in this rite. For the first time, girls wear a furisode kimono made from one roll of kimono fabric. Since it will be too large, the shoulders and sleeves are tucked up in the same style as a Maiko’s hikizuri kimono. In the old days, the girls would wear these kimonos at various opportunities so they would learn the manners associated with kimonos. Later on, these tucks are removed and the kimono is worn for the Coming of Age rite at age 20.
I recently talked to the priest at Nagoya’s Shiogama Shrine. He told me that Jusan Mairi traditionally marked a girl’s entry to womanhood. In old Japan, this was a transition to adult clothes and hairstyles. Nowadays, this is still a rite to mark a girl’s passage into womanhood but more focus is put on studies.
This rite is observed more often in the Kansai area of Japan, where it celebrated with more elaborately than earlier childhood rites. It is slowly being introduced in other areas mainly by the photo studios. Shrines famous for Jusan Mairi include Horin-ji in Arashimaya. Kyoto, Taihei-ji in Osaka and Konin-ji in Nara. Although still uncommon in the Kanto area, you might see young girls going for their blessings at Asakusa-ji.
Next month, we’ll take a look at Omiya Mairi, a baby’s first visit to the shrine.
Obachan’s Chie Tips: Kazoe-doshi: The way age is counted in Japan can be confusing sometimes. For traditional rites, kazoe-doshi is used. A newborn baby is thought to be 1 year old as soon as he/she is born. On the next New Year Day, everyone becomes a year older. So, if a child is born on December 31, he/she becomes 2 on the next day. Now, this system isn’t used in daily life, but it is used in traditional rites. For 7-5-3 rites, the 3 year old may still be 2 years old. At Jusan Mairi, the girls are still 12, going on 13. Youth who are still 19 may celebrate Seijin-shiki. This is where things get really tricky. The legal drinking age is 20, so even if you’ve “come of age” at Seijin-shiki, you can’t have that glass of bubbly to celebrate if you’re still 19!
Sarah is a long-time resident born and raised in Japan. She spends her time trying to raise her children, translating and making soy candles on the side. She loves the beach, paddle boarding, mountain lakes and Japanese beer :)