As the wife and mom of a multicultural family, I enjoy finding creative ways to teach my five-year-old son about his African-American and Japanese-American heritage. Living in the Atlanta Metro area, the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement, affords us countless opportunities to learn about African-American history. Teaching him about his Japanese heritage takes much more effort, but has definitely been worth every moment.
November 15 is Shichi-Go-San (7-5-3), a Japanese children’s holiday. On this day, three and seven-year-old girls and five-year-old boys wear kimono- traditional Japanese attire. In Japan, families visit a Shinto shrine and pray for the child’s health and longevity. Our little guy has been working hard taking his first classes to speak the language and read and write in hiragana. The year 2020 has been full of twists and turns, including the fact that a ritual to celebrate good health is taking place in the midst of a global pandemic. This is a year when many families are hosting virtual or socially distanced rites of passage including birthday parties, graduations, baptisms, bar and bat mitzvahs, and more.
Here in the United States, many Japanese-American families celebrate Shichi-Go-San by visiting a photo studio for a special session or visiting a significant location such as a local landmark or park. Photographers rent elaborate kimono, and some offer hair and makeup services to complete the look. The parents may wear Japanese or Western attire.
Like so many parents celebrating a rite of passage, I experienced some of the difficulties that come with planning during a pandemic. Because of social distancing and other health precautions, many of the usual services related to Shichi-Go-San aren’t available this year. First, there was an exhaustive online search for appropriate attire. I wasn’t able to order from Japan, not to mention the fact that delivery services have delays these days. I enlisted the help of family, friends, and parents from Japanese class. There were many phone calls, texts and emails to Japanese vendors locally and around the country. Little by little, everything came together- the outfit and location to celebrate this special day.
It was a long journey preparing for this day, but along the way, I connected with Japanese kimono vendors and learned more about their craft. I spoke to every Japanese grocery store in my area. I bonded with friends and family members who can’t wait to see the photos because they were an important part of the process. I also learned about the Japanese Proverb, “For a Samurai to be brave, he must have a bit of black blood.” This proverb references Sakanouye no Tamuramoro, a Japanese Shogun of African descent described as the “paragon of military virtues” in early Japan.
Atlanta Botanical Garden made a perfect location for the Shichi-Go-San photos. We took photos in Japanese attire in the Japanese Garden, and photos in Western attire in the Children’s Garden. The attractions currently available are outdoors, and masks are encouraged. Nearly everyone wore masks except while taking photos, and people were considerate about social distancing. Tickets are sold by appointment with a limited number of guests at any given time. This helped me feel reassured that this was a safe location.
Rites of passage are important moments to celebrate our children, pass on life lessons, and mark significant milestones. In times like these, there’s also a lot for us to learn as parents. It’s important for us to remember the big picture. Enjoy the process in the face of the inconveniences. Let go of perfectionism and pre-conceived ideas of how you envisioned the day. Remember that this is an historic moment, and when your descendants look at the photos 50 or 100 years from now, they won’t expect to see perfection. It’s the quirks and imperfections of 2020 that will make things interesting.
Kimono: Boro Boro
Location: Atlanta Botanical Garden