What Does Kan-Kon So-Sai Mean? ~”Kan” Version~

What Does Kan-Kon So-Sai Mean? ~”Kan” Version~


Japanese Culture & Customs

Every Japanese person should know of the word “Kankon Sosai.”

Kankon Sosai, or ceremonial events in English, refers to the four important ceremonies performed as a custom in Japan. These four ceremonies celebrate or perform the following events: the coming of age(Kan), marriage(Kon), funeral(Sou), and festival of the ancestors(Sai).

However, in recent times, “Kan” refers to a rites of passage, while “Sai” refers to a festival, as in, an event.

Can this word be something unique to Japan? When we searched the answer to this question, we found that similar words also existed in China and Korea. Still, the way these rituals are performed may have differences between each country.

Let’s start by getting to know the Japanese style of “Kankon Sosai”, one by one.

What is “Kan?”

The word “Kan” originally indicates the coming of age.


The coming of age is a custom established after the Nara Period(AD 710 to 794).

It was a ritual to indicate that one has become an adult, and was performed for the people in the ages 11 to 16.


In current Japan, adult age is generally considered to be twenty. When one turns twenty, and becomes an adult, drinking and smoking will be permitted. To add, a coming of age ceremony will be held in each community, where the new adults celebrate dressed in traditional formal wear (Hakama for men, long sleeve kimono for women), or suits.


However, the meaning of “Kan” has also been changing lately, generally indicating all the events held throughout the turning points in a life. Some typical examples include: omiyamairi, hatsuzekku, shichigosan, entrance to school, graduation, employment, and celebration of the elderly.


Omiyamairi and Hatsuzekku

Omiyamairi…A ritual for celebrating the birth of a child. Families go to shrines to worship the guardian deity of the child’s birthplace. Around one month after the baby is born, they choose a day convenient for them to visit the shrine to worship and pray for health and longevity. During the Omiyamairi, there is a custom of wrapping the baby around in kimono, and special kimono for these occasions are called “Iwaigi (celebration wear).”


Hatsuzekku…Sekku is a celebration held at the changing point of seasons. When the newborns face their first Sekku, their families gather around the babies to celebrate their growth, as well as pray for their health. The day of Sekku is different for girls and for boys; girls’ day is on the 3rd of March, boys’ day is on the 5th of May. Furthermore, the custom for decorations also differ, girls’ Sekku is decorated with Hina dolls, whereas boys’ Sekku is celebrated with ornamental helmets and May warrior dolls.(※These customs may vary depending on regions.)


Shichigosan and Celebration of Longevity

Shichigosan…When children are of ages 3, 5, and 7, which are all considered as lucky numbers, families go to shrines to worship and celebrate the children’s growth and health. Shichigosan is held on November 15th. Also, the age for celebration is generally different for boys and girls; boys celebrate at age 5, whereas girls celebrate when they are 3 or 7 years old.(currently, boys may also celebrate at age 3.) To worship at a shrine, it is customary to wear hakama or kimono, and eat chitoseame (candies sold at children’s festivals).


Celebration of Longevity…An event to wish for longevity with expressions of gratitude. It begins at one’s sixtieth birthday, followed with a couple of other events depending on one’s age. For example, Kanreki (60th birthday), Kiju (77th birthday), Sanju (80th birthday), Beiju (88th birthday), Sotsuju (90th birthday), Hakuju (99th birthday), Hyakuju (100th birthday), Chaju (108th birthday), Koju(111th birthday), and Dai Kanreki (120th birthday). Each of these events celebrate the birthdays with feelings of gratitude and hopes for living longer. Among them, Kanreki is the most famous, where the person of the event wears a red “Chanchanko(padded sleeveless kimono jacket).” This is to express the person of age 60 becoming a baby once more, in order to start life again from scratch.

[Notes from the Writer]

Today, I have summarized the “Kan” in Kankon Sosai.

This topic outlines unique Japanese culture, so I will be happy if you find this interesting.

Next time, I will summarize the topic of “Kon(marriage)!” Don’t miss it!

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