Luxurious, used kimonos are given new life when the Wakayama Kiwanis Club professionally fits children with the elegant garments for a traditional coming-of-age celebration.
The three girls huddled, shy and uncertain at first, but once they were draped in exquisite red and blue silk kimonos, they turned to one another grinning and praised one another’s appearance with shouts of “Kawaii!” (“Cute!”)
The Japanese tradition of Shichi-Go-San– which means “7-5-3” – originated centuries ago to commemorate milestone birthdays for kids during a time when many infants didn’t live to see their third birthday. Quality of life has changed, but the holiday remains as a celebration of children’s well-being.
If not for the generosity of the Kiwanis Club of Wakayama, the three girls of Kobato Gakuen, a child welfare facility in south-central Japan, would have missed out on this rite of passage. One club member lent the child-sized kimonos her daughter and niece wore when it was their turn to participate, and another member who runs a beauty salon treated each girl to the customary elegant updo and kid-friendly makeup. Members also handed out chitoseame, —sticks of red-and-white candy often found at kid’s festivals —and organized a photography session at a studio so the girls could receive a keepsake portrait.
It’s all to help children make memories – ones that last a lifetime. Wakayama club member Noriko Iuchi still remembers how special she felt when she participated as a child, vividly recalling feeling “grown up” wearing a kimono and walking hand-in-hand with her mother and father so she wouldn’t fall on the steps to the Shinto shrine.
Child welfare facilities don’t receive adequate funding, so organizations like Kiwanis fill the gap and provide programs where orphans can experience a childhood like any other.
“Oftentimes, children are put in facilities due to reasons set by adults,” says Iuchi. “We want the children to remember there are adults who care about them, understand them and accept them.”