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Gaijin Mama - Shichi go san

Shichi-go-san is a festival which honors children at the ages of seven (girls), five (boys) and three (mostly girls, but sometimes boys, too). Originally, these were three separate festivals, marking the ages when children adopted adult hairstyles and clothing, but they were eventually combined into one. Although November 23rd is the official public holiday for 7-5-3, you will see families celebrating throughout the fall.

These days, 7-5-3 usually means dressing up in kimono and having professional photos taken. Then the family traipses off to a shrine for a blessing. It was fall when I first came to Japan, and I couldn’t resist taking photos of all the adorable 7-5-3 kids-little dreaming that I’d ever be one of those proud Mamas!

Our first 7-5-3 was five years ago, when we had Master 5 and Miss 3 celebrating -perfectly timed! My husband and I to wear kimono, too. We managed to persuade my mother-in-law to travel up from her little town in Hiroshima. Trying to be helpful, I said we would rent her kimono from the photo studio. She seemed hesitant, so I thought she was worried about the cost. The next time she called, I assured that we had taken care of everything. What a surprise when she confided, “I don’t want to seem ungrateful…but…I hate kimono!! It’s so restricting! I’d much rather wear Western-style clothes!” So, we had Japanese grandma in Western clothes and gaijin daughter-in-law in kimono!

I was worried about Miss 3, a drama queen who was prone to tantrums. How would she react? At the studio, they took me away to dress first, as my kimono and hair would take the longest. Halfway through, I heard a shy little voice saying, “Mama…” I looked up in surprise. Was this demure little Japanese doll, standing there with her hands primly folded, my daughter? What a transformation!

As you may have noticed, a woman in kimono has no curves-you are padded out to look the same up and down. Although I was seven months pregnant at the time, my bump was practically invisible under the kimono. However, concerned about the baby, the staff had tied the obi (sash) a little looser than normal. The children and I wore our kimono to the shrine and my obi started to come untied! My mother-in-law was as clueless as me, but luckily, there was a kimono expert on hand who tugged me back into shape.

Last year, we celebrated 7-5-3 with Miss 7 and Miss 3. (Excellent timing again!) This time we had my mother from New Zealand with us, and I persuaded her to try kimono. The photo studio staff enthused about how well she suited it. “No wonder Japanese women look so elegant in these things-it’s so tight you can barely move!” Mum whispered.

Mum was too shy to wear kimono out to the shrine afterwards, but the girls and I did. This time we were the subject of all the photos as we walked by! A proud Mama moment indeed.

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Louise George Kittaka is from New Zealand and is a freelance editor, writer and teacher. She lives in Japan with her husband and three children.