Mikkaiwai – third day rite: 3rd day after birth
To pray for health and celebrate a safe delivery of a baby, wash baby's body for the first time with hot water. After bathing, a baby puts on the first clothing, called Ubugi (hemp leaf pattern is popular as it’s believed that it would protect a baby against malignant forces) and it was thought that a baby would begin living as "human being."
Hemp leaf pattern meaning of amulet
In some areas, those that have a new baby in the family to make and distribute “three pieces of Botamochi” to relatives or everyone they know to inform about a new baby. Also a mother of a new born baby eats Botamochi in order to increase breast milk supply.
In my family
I remember that my grandmother and my mother brought three pieces of
Botamochi three days after my baby was born. I said “I have a lot to eat at a hospital so I am not sure if I have room for Botamochi in my stomach” but in reality, I was always very hungry during breastfeeding period and I ate them up quickly.
Oshichiya - baby naming ceremony: 7th day after birth
New parents and their close relatives will hold the Oshichiya, the baby naming ceremony. The Oshichiya is held on the seventh night and it is when a child receives his/her name officially. The traditional meal is served for the attendees during this ceremony.
In old days, there were many babies who died soon after birth, so baby didn’t have a name until after the seventh day.
In my family
A template of downloadable nomenclature
We downloaded a sample format from the internet and prepared the name certificate by PC. Although our baby’s name is used in general, once the name certificate that was created with brush font was displayed in the household Shinto altar, it made us sacred feeling.
Since it was right after being discharged from a hospital, we didn’t have a big ceremony but we prepared some Osekihan to celebrate the safe delivery.
Omiyamairi - baby’s first shrine visit: 1 month after baby was born
Omiyamairi describes a prominent Japanese ritual that involves taking babies to the nearest Shinto shrines. The meaning of the Omiyamairi is for babies to receive blessings when brought to the shrine.
Traditionally, these babies are brought to the shrine about 30days after birth. Originally, mothers did not attend Omiyamairi because there was the idea that giving birth was considered as smudginess so they cannot visit a shrine, therefore it was generally accepted that paternal grandmother to hold a baby.
In my family
Little after 30 days since our baby was born, we have visited a shrine with my parents and grandparents. I remember that I was nervous about taking our eldest son to Omiyamairi because it was the first time to take our son outside the house.
At first, our eldest son was asleep but when a drum was beaten, the priest recited a Shinto prayer and the shrine maiden started to demonstrate, he cried out loud! On the other hand, our second son was asleep whole time.
Okuizome - first meal: 100 days after birth
Okuizome is a tradition that babies are made to pretend to eat their first meal on the 100th day to wish they will have enough food throughout their lives.
The eldest person of relatives who is the same gender as a baby is selected as "nursing parent" which is the role to pretend for a baby to eat, wishing the baby to have longevity.
In my family
When we visited a shrine, the table ware set for our baby(Iwaizen) were given as gift so I have prepared celebratory meal. Some stones which I picked at the precinct of a shrine (to ensure the growth of healthy strong teeth, also the head) were included in this meal.
Although our baby couldn’t actually eat meal yet, it was supposed to his first meal so I prepared them at my best effort. Since it was unfamiliar menu to me and I had to stop cooking quite often for breastfeeding at night, it was touching moment when I could finally “completed Iwaizen” before dawn.
Hatsuzekku – first seasonal festival: March 3rd and May 5th
Hatsuzekku celebrates the birth of a new born and calls for rituals to pray for the baby’s growth and to ward off any bad luck. Hatsuzekku for baby girls is called “Momo no sekku” and is celebrated on 3rd of March when the peach blossoms start to bloom, while for the boys, the celebration is called “Tango no sekku” and is celebrated with the family on 5th May. During the celebrations, households will get their houses ready with colourful carp streamers, replicas of ancient Japanese samurai helmets called “kabuto” and little samurai dolls called “Gogatsu ningyo” for the boys, or dolls that symbolise the princesses (called Ohinasama) and lords from the Heian period for the little girls.
Since festival decorations (Sekku kazari) undertake misfortune and protect children, basically each set of Sekku kazari should be given to each child but it is common today that sharing one set of Sekku kazari among brothers sisters due to housing circumstance.
In my family
We put our son in rompers which was designed as a traditional dress, Haori coat hakama (overcoats & kimono, hakama) and celebrated Tango no sekku. We had lunch at a restaurant and after came back to home, children started to get wild and they wanted to play with “the samurai doll” which was supposed to protect them. I had hard time protecting the doll from the little monsters!
When we had celebration for my eldest son, he swallowed a miniature Koinobori (carp-shaped wind socks traditionally flown to celebrate Tango no sekku), and all of us were very worried. Fortunately, he was OK.
Hatsu Tanjo – first birthday: 1 year after birth - Isshomoch, Erabitori
When a child celebrates first birthday, it is common to commemorate the occasion by having him/her carry an issho mochi (a rice cake that weighs 1.8kg) on his/her back. The kanji character for issho (一升) in issho mochi has the same pronunciation as the kanji character for issho (一生) that means a lifetime, and therefore this tradition symbolizes the wish that the child will not have any difficulties with food throughout their lifetime.
Also having a child carry a great amount of food on his/her back represents sometimes life problems is hard to carry, and so that they will never be out of food.
Also, make a child “Erabitori” in some areas. Several items (or cards which have different pictures) are placed in front of a child for him/her to choose. The first item which is chosen is said to determine his/her destined career field.
For instance, “brush = writer, scholar”, “wallet = wealthy”, “abacus = businessman.” Each family may prepare different items which makes the celebration unique and fun. Variety of pictures for cards can be found on the internet.
You can create handmade selection cards using free illustrations「irasutoya」
In my family
We have made a baby food cake for our eldest son’s first birthday and put a candle on it. And we made him carry Isshomochi. He cried out and fell after short crawling as we had expected…we tried to change his mood and he did Erabitori! He energetically crawled toward handmade cards (9 different cards) and picked “balloon = global person”! Our second son’s birthday is coming soon and we are looking forward to it.
Celebrations are to show appreciation
There are so many celebrations in 1 year after birth!
In old days, when child and infant mortality was high, it’s a great pleasure for family that their babies to be able to grow up healthy and to celebrate their first birthday.
In addition, “Ubumeshi” is to make boiling of rice for1.8kg (Issho) and to put them beside child’s pillow which represents the wish that a child will never be out of food. Also, baby's first New Year's is called “Hatsu Shogatsu.” It varies depending on the region, but it is customary to present boys with Hamaya (arrow) and girls with Hagoita (a traditional badminton-like paddle) to repel evil spirits.
Looking closely at each region, there may be more interesting customs to be found.
But what was common to all the celebrations was that the gratitude to God and nature.
This custom started in Heian period and at that time it was very difficult for children to grow big, many died at the birth or an illness afterwards and not many babies didn’t grow even to 3 years old. So people started believing that the little kids were actually not humans but sort of messengers from the God, and until 7 years old, the God can take them away from the parents at any moment. When the child reached 7, he or she had more possibility of growing bigger. So the parents took the child to a local shrine and received a charm which proclaimed children as complete human beings. Then the children were accepted in the society.
Babies get bigger and bigger, supported by a lot of people, but they cannot grow healthy only with support from human beings. The sunlight and the rain pours on the globe, trees and leaves to grow, and then to bear fruits.
I realized that nature produces various lives and these lives protects and raise human beings. Each time we celebrate our children’s healthy growth, it would be nice to think what we receive from nature every day of our lives and to appreciate them.
【List of reference】
・”Baby/Child Celebrations” by Yasuko Miura, editorial supervisor, published by Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc. in April 2015
・”The life of Japanese” written by Mitsugu Taniguchi, published by Yashiyo Shuppan in January 2014
・” Literary calendar of baby/child celebrations”written by Seikatsu TanoshimiTai, published by Seibido Shuppan in January 2014
・”Child celebration and seasonal events for family” written by Naoki Shintani, published by Nihonbungeisha in June 2012
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