World’s Smallest Newborn Turns Three, Celebrates “Shichi-Go-San” in Japan

Society

All Dressed Up

Shichi-go-san is a joyous time for young Japanese households. Observed from mid-November, the custom involves families with children who are three, five, or seven years old visiting a Shintō shrine or Buddhist temple to pray for the health and happiness of their little ones.

Among the parade of little tykes dolled up in kimonos and sporting miniature suits and ties at a shrine in Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture was three-year-old Sekino Ryūsuke. Born in 2018, he drew media attention as the world’s smallest newborn when he was delivered weighing a mere 258 grams and measuring 22 centimeters.

Wearing a jacket a few sizes too large for his tiny frame, the one-time “miracle baby” charges up the steps of a shrine, displaying the same energy and reckless abandon as his peers. His mother Toshiko watches his progress with a smile, saying that his outfit is a tad big but he will grow into it in time.

Delivered prematurely at 23 weeks and 5 days, Ryūsuke literally fit in the palm of a person’s hand. (Courtesy Nagano Children’s Hospital)
Delivered prematurely at 24 weeks and 5 days, Ryūsuke literally fit in the palm of a person’s hand. (Courtesy Nagano Children’s Hospital)

Ryūsuke when he was discharged from the hospital in April 2019.
Ryūsuke when he was discharged from the hospital in April 2019.

Small, but Getting Bigger

Doctors delivered Ryūsuke via emergency cesarian section on October 1, 2018, after discovering that he was not gaining sufficient weight in the womb. During tense months in the natal intensive care unit at Nagano Children’s Hospital, he grew to over three kilograms, and was eventually discharged to his waiting parents and siblings in April the following year.

As of November 2021, Ryūsuke officially weighs in at 7.16 kilograms and measures 74.2 centimeters tall. Although only half the average size for his age group, he is making up the difference with a hearty appetite. “He’s always hungry,” notes Toshiko. “Meat dishes are his favorite, especially fried chicken.”

Ryūsuke (center) celebrates his third birthday with his family.
Ryūsuke (center) celebrates his third birthday with his family.

A smiling Ryūsuke enjoys a push on a swing.
A smiling Ryūsuke enjoys a push on a swing.

In April 2021, Ryūsuke reached another milestone by starting nursery school. Although smaller than his classmates, he is developing quickly and gaining confidence, including making himself heard when he wants something. “His communication skills have improved a lot,” says older brother Yūhei.

Shrine Visit

The Sekino’s shichi-go-san visit was a normal affair in most ways. Surrounded by his three older siblings and mother, Ryūsuke, snug in his father Kōhei’s arms, received the blessings of the deity of the shrine along with the traditional colorfully decorated bag of chitose ame, long, thin candy offered as a symbol of healthy growth and a long life. “When the gūji [shrine priest] handed over the bag, Ryūsuke started bawling,” recounts Kōhei with a smile. “I quickly passed him over to his mom and he settled right down.” Another ancient ritual repeated.

Ryūsuke and family pose for a commemorative photo during their shrine visit on November 27, 2021.
Ryūsuke and family pose for a commemorative photo during their shrine visit on November 27, 2021.

Before returning home, Ryūsuke drew an omikuji, a fortune-telling slip, his first ever. “He got shōkichi,” says Kōhei. “Not the best, but still good. It means he has ample room to grow.”

The family is grateful for the providence it has received so far. “I can’t express how happy we are to be celebrating shichi-go-san together,” says Kōhei. Toshiko shares the sentiment. “He loves to run and play with his friends, and is learning so many new things. I look forward to seeing what kind of person he becomes.”

Ryūsuke shows off his omikuji slip.
Ryūsuke shows off his omikuji slip.

(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on December 12, 2021. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)

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