Today (15th Nov) is a big day for many Japanese children. It’s shichi-go-san, (which literally means seven-five-three) – an old Japanese celebration. It’s a day when three and seven year old girls and three and five year old boys go to a shrine with their families so that a priest can drive out evil spirits and give the children a blessing for a healthy and long life. It is also to celebrate the fact that your child has managed to survive to these important landmark ages. This might sound odd to many of you but, of course, in the not so distant past there was a fairly good chance that a child might not grow up to be an adult. That is, without antibiotics, vaccinations, modern operating theatres, their surgeons, and importantly for our family’s life: insulin.
As many of you know, our 3-year old daughter has Type 1 diabetes, diagnosed when she was 11 months old. So, we had a good reason today to celebrate the fact that she is still around. You see, had she been born before 1921 she would not be here today – and I don’t mean because she would be nearly 100 years old today, but because insulin was first given to diabetic people less than 100 years ago. This medical achievement was all down to a chap called Frederick Banting (and his collaborators). It was Dr Banting’s birthday yesterday (the 14th Nov), and to acknowledge his contribution, World Diabetes Day is held annually on this date. So, us celebrating with our little diabetic daughter today (rather than yesterday) makes us a day late. Belated Birthday Wishes Dr Banting! That wasn’t the only difference between us and diabetics back in England and Finland. In particular, many diabetics in England took part in the ‘Type Onesie day’, and many of our friends wore onesies for the day. Our daughter didn’t wear a onesie today – she wore a kimono instead.
But let’s start from the beginning.
Today was a big day. Our children had a shower last night, we ironed everyone’s clothes, and got everything was ready for the morning, for which we had booked a slot at a nearby shrine for our daughter’s shichi-go-san. During the night, I heard our daughter cry in her bed and walk into our room. I thought she had had a bad dream, so I lifted the duvet and in she came between me and my husband like a frankfurter in a hotdog bun. In the morning, we realized that the reason why she had cried during the night was that she had, in fact, done a poo during the night in her bed, abandoned the ship (so to speak) and left her brother in the top bunk to enjoy the contaminated bedroom air while she sneaked into our bed. So, we had to repeat the showers in the morning, but in addition, of course, change the sheets and run three loads of washing in the rush of getting ready for her big day. Is it just us or is everyone else’s lives also as chaotic as ours?
About an hour before we needed to leave our apartment for the shrine, some of our Japanese friends came over to help us to get our daughter dressed in her kimono.
We got to the shrine a little early so we decided to take some photos of our daughter. In the meanwhile, our son was running around like a springer spaniel after a lawnmower on the loose and throwing his hat up in the air. We should have known what was going to happen next – partly because the exact same thing happened a couple of days ago in the foyer of our building. His hat got stuck somewhere he couldn’t reach. In our building, it was on a ledge roughly at ceiling level and we needed to get the janitor to come and get it for us. Today at the shrine garden the hat had got stuck in a tree. My husband, who saw his chance to show his improved upper body strength (he’s been diligently doing pull ups for the past 3 months) offered to climb up and fetch it. Luckily he didn’t, given that our Japanese friend noticed that the tree is very old and, hence, protected. Damaging the tree in any way would result in a fine. And some mediocre Western Tarzan attempting to climb the protected tree and breaking a branch or two would not go down well with the priests, the local people or the local press – in fact, the chances are that such an attempt whether the Tarzan broke any branches or not would make headline news in Osaka. So, my husband decided to try his tree swinging skills somewhere else and our Japanese friend went to get a priest, who helped us to get the hat down (see photo).
Regardless of the incident with the hat, the priest invited us into a hall with some stools and an altar (see photos). In addition to the priest, there was a woman in a white kimono doing a little twirl and shaking a golden shaker that had bells on it. I am embarrassed to admit that I was as clueless as a Swedish woman in an IQ test during the ceremony and had very little understanding as to what the priest and the lady were doing – or what the significance of it all was. You see, the only thing I understood was the priest saying our address and our daughter’s name, everything else just sounded like a high pitch chant. Regardless of this, the ceremony was lovely and even the kids were mesmerized by the priest and the lady.
The lady in white gave our daughter a bag, inside which was some toys, a small hand towel, some crayons and, importantly, a thin white and red candy stick ‘Chitose Ame’ (thousand year candy) representing a long and healthy life. The children were also given a balloon each. Our son carried on with his previous springer spaniel behaviour but instead of getting the balloon stuck in a protected tree, he managed to pop it about 30 seconds into playing with it. Tears were inevitable. Perhaps the priests were dog lovers as they kindly gave him another one.
Afterwards, we went for lunch in a nearby restaurant, where a relatively hefty quantity of Dr Banting’s invention was needed to counterbalance the carbs that our daughter had for the occasion.
All in all the day was a success – apart from the stinky start, the hat, and the popped balloon. I can’t but repeat what I said above:
Is it just us or is everyone else’s lives also as chaotic as ours?