November 15, 1883
Seven Five Three (Shichi Go San)
Cool, crisp air blew brittle leaves from their precarious perches on tree branches, sending them to the ground in polychromatic spirals. V-shaped flocks of geese could be seen flying southward, fleeing the coming cold, their honking sounds carried to earth on the wind.
In his bedroom, heated by a crackling hibachi, Himura Kenji tied off his brand new pleated hakama and slid his shinai over his shoulder. After a final look down at himself to be certain he looked neat and proper, the young boy exited his room to join his parents on their journey to the shrine for the Shichi Go San ceremony, which celebrated childhood milestones for children who were going to turn three, five and seven respectively. At age five, Kenji was finally old enough to wear hakama just like Daddy and Ya'ko-nii did. He felt very big and very proud!
"Are you ready, Little Lion?" Kenji heard Daddy's voice call.
"Yup!" Kenji called back, running down the narrow hallway to join his parents, who were dressed in their best kimono as well.
After putting on their haori, the three stepped out into the nippy air and began walking toward the shrine. As they walked down the lane lined with trees, Kenji ran along the sides, jumped into the air and landed in the huge piles of leaves, sending the dessicated foliage scattering in all directions. Not content with merely jumping, Kenji kicked and stomped on the leaves as well, listening to their satisfying crunching sound under his sandaled feet.
As the family continued along, a funny sound reached their ears.
Kenji looked to his left and saw in the field a flock of swan geese that had stopped to rest on their southward perigrination. Taking off in a blue and copper blur, the boy ran toward the geese, scattering the flock. The harried birds scrambled desperately back into the air in a brown and white blur to escape the small interloper. Pouring on his godspeed, Kenji launched himself into the air and stopped just shy of snatching a retreating goose from the midair. The boy landed back on the ground, straightened up and watched as the geese, now but specks in the sky, arranged themselves into a V pattern and flew away for safer grounds.
Once at the shrine, the family approached the purification fountain and Kenshin picked up the dipper, with which he poured water over his hands and rubbed them together. Kaoru then took her turn and went to do it for Kenji.
"Wanna do it myself!" protested Kenji.
After all, how could he call himself a big boy if he couldn't wash his own hands at the fountain?
Kaoru looked up at Kenshin, who smiled and nodded.
"Alright, Kenji. Do it just the way Daddy and I did," instructed Kaoru.
Kenji dipped the dipper in the water, then poured it slowly onto his hands and rubbed them together.
"Did it," he announced.
"So you did. Let's go up now," said a smiling Kenshin softly.
Once at the shrine, Kenshin fished a single coin out of his sleeve and handed it to Kenji.
"Would you do the honors?" he asked.
"Yep," said Kenji as he approached the offering box and tossed the coin in.
This done, he grabbed the pull cord to ring the bell and gave a tug. However, that obstinate bell refused to budge.
"Broken!" complained Kenji.
"Let me help you," offered Kenshin, placing his hands over Kenji's.
With Kenshin's help, Kenji pulled the cord and this time, the bell gave a loud, clear...
Purification completed, the family entered the shrine and found a place to sit among the myriad other families who had also brought their young children with them. There were little three-year-olds, beginning to grow their hair out for the first time. There were five-year-old boys like Kenji, strutting around proudly in their new hakama and little girls of seven in brightly colored kimono with floral, butterfly and crane patterns, tying them with large, bright obi for the first time.
Soon, the priests came out and prayed over the children for a long, prosperous life for them. While this was going on, Kenshin closed his eyes and uttered his own prayer to any kami that might be listening that Kenji would grow up to be the honorable man that he should have been. When he opened his eyes, the priests had finished praying and everyone was standing up to leave.
After they left the shrine, Kenshin spotted a vendor selling the special candy linked to the holiday, called chitose-ame: a long red and white candy stick in a wrapper decorated with turtles and cranes, which symbolized long life for the child. Falling a bit behind Kaoru and Kenji without them noticing, Kenshin broke away from them and approached the vendor.
"One chitose-ame, please?" he asked softly.
"Sure thing," smiled the vendor. "For the little guy over there?"
Kenshin glanced back at the miniature of himself walking ahead with Kaoru and smiled.
"Yes," he said. "He'll be five new years."
"They grow up quick," said the vendor, handing Kenshin the candy. "There ya go."
"Thank you," said Kenshin with a bow.
As he walked along, he stuffed the candy up his sleeve for later. Up ahead, Kaoru and Kenji had just noticed his absence and were looking for him. Kaoru's eyes lit when she saw him and he smiled and waved as he approached them.
"There you are," Kaoru smiled.
"Sorry. I got a bit sidetracked looking at the vendors' booths," smiled an apologetic Kenshin.
"That's fine," said Kaoru. "Since we're already in downtown, let's eat at the Akabeko!"
"Yay!!!" Kenji cheered, as it would have been Mommy's day to cook otherwise.
"That sounds good," agreed Kenshin.
At the Akabeko, the family were greeted by Tsubame as they entered. The young waitress smiled brightly when she saw Kenji in his little gray hakama, looking for all the world like a miniature Kenshin.
"How was your ceremony, Kenji?" she asked him.
"Good. Big boy now!" announced Kenji proudly.
"Yes. It seems like you are," agreed Tsubame as she showed the family to their usual spot. "The usual?"
"Yes, please," said Kaoru.
As the family sat eating their beef pot, Yahiko emerged from the kitchen to visit them for a bit.
"Well, look who's wearing hakama like a big man," he teased when he saw Kenji wearing the pleated pants. "You know how to tie those things or did the ugly broad help you?"
Kenji scowled at Yahiko.
"Did it myself and Mommy's not ugly! She's pretty!" the little boy protested, voice rising just a bit.
"Yeah, after a few bottles of sake," smirked Yahiko.
"Ow! You crone!" snarled Yahiko.
"That'll be enough out of you for today, Yahiko-CHAN. We are here to eat and celebrate, not listen to your little barbs!" growled Kaoru, magic bokken clutched in her fist.
Yahiko stood up and stomped back into the kitchen as he rubbed the lump rising from his scalp, mumbling something about ugly PMSing raccoons.
"Ya'ko's a meanie," frowned Kenji.
"Ungrateful brat," scowled Kaoru.
"Now, now. That's just Yahiko's way of showing how happy he is for us," smiled Kenshin.
"He has a funny way of doing it," grumbled Kaoru as she picked some beef for herself from the hot pot.
After the family stepped back out into the crisp air, Kenshin reached into his sleeve and handed the candy he had bought earlier to Kenji.
"Here you are, Kenji. For your shichi go san," said Kenshin solemnly.
Kaoru smiled. So that was where Kenshin had disappeared to earlier!
Kenji immediately tore the wrapper off the stick and bit off as much as he could fit into his mouth.
"Kenji, what do we say when someone gives us something?" Kaoru asked.
"Thansh, Daddy," Kenji said around the candy.
"You're welcome, son. Let's go home," said Kenshin.
The three turned and headed back to the dojo at a leisurely pace, Kenji already a quarter finished with his candy.