And now, for a break from our regular romp through my memories, we have a post of current events. One year ago, my son was born! Huzzah! Your first birthday is a big deal, no matter what culture you come from, for certain. However, in Japan, there are several interesting events leading up to the celebration of your first complete trip around the sun. In America, we love to celebrate a baby's first's. First Christmas, first Easter, first Halloween, but aside from a torrent of photo ops, very little happens that first year that doesn't happen each proceeding year. Not so, Japan! Baby is celebrated six times in the first year, and even after that, there are increasingly spaced events that celebrate the child until they turn the big 20. At that point, you are an adult, and good luck to you, sir, the party is over. But today we will follow my son through his first year.
Event #1 - Birth!
Arguably the most important event of all, this is where it all starts (of course). My son was born in a "Ladies Clinic," which is like a Birthing Center in America. Small staff, friendly atmosphere, and an attempt at a nice, homelike feel to the building as opposed to the other option, hospital birth....oh no! Our clinic was run by a husband and wife OB/GYN team, and was a mere 5 minute walk from my apartment. They promoted natural childbirth, so from day one, we knew that ours would be an unmedicated birth. I have to admit, I was a little worried about that, but my lack of a choice made the decision easier to live with. My little one was about 11 days late that Saturday morning, and I was feeling like I would never have the baby. We'd seen the doctor that morning, and they had even gone as far as setting up my inducement appointment if I hadn't gone into labor by Monday. Inducement of labor in Japan is seen as a last resort, and I was getting a bit distraught when finally, that evening, things got started. Bad news was, the baby was facing backwards, so he was pushing against my spine instead of the exit. While not dangerous, it was going to make things take longer than they would normally have... but, 23 hours later, it was finished, and Baby Tigger was born! Japan standard is 5 days in the clinic for mom and baby, which I did gratefully, allowing the nurses and staff to do the cleaning, cooking, and baby bathing until I recovered, and then back home to start our lives together.
Event #2 - O-shichi ya (The seventh night)
Technically, when a baby is born in Japan, you don't have to have a name for it yet. Seven days after the birth, the baby's family comes together and has the naming ceremony. There is a little party, with lots of food, including "sekihan" (meaning red rice). The rice is made with red beans, so that it takes on a reddish color itself. Sekihan is usually used in celebrations, though recently it is possible to get it pretty much whenever you feel like it. The color red is lucky in Japan, and so it's inclusion in celebration parties is seen as a call to good luck. Another dish is often included is "tai," (red snapper). Baked whole, tai is also seen in most celebratory meals in Japan, and is my favorite. At this party, the baby's name is "decided", and then written on a small slip of paper which is displayed in the home (I've heard several reasons for this, but it seems to me it is a way for the family to be constantly reminded of the kanji used in the child's name. Each section of a name can have one of several kanji, and it is difficult to remember which ones the parents have chosen.
Here is our little feast... Miso soup, tai, noodle salad, fried chicken, a laquered box of sekihan, pear slices, and red and white mochi (pounded rice with sweet bean paste inside).
Event #3 - O-miya Mairi (First trip to a Shinto Shrine)
When baby boys are 31 days old and baby girls are 33 days old, they are taken to a Shinto shrine for the first time to give thanks for a safe birth and pray for a healthy life. For a small fee, the family is taken into the inner shrine, where a priest tells the gods the baby's name, address, and asks them to watch over the baby in the coming years. The baby itself "wears" its first kimono... though of course it's too small to truly wear it. Instead, the baby is held in the mothers arms, and the kimono is draped over both of them to display the design on the back. The family is then given a small wooden plaque to keep near the baby's bed, and an amulet to carry around with the baby to keep them safe.
Event #4 - O-kui Hajime (The first feeding)
At 100 days, the baby is big enough to "eat" solid food for the first time. This calls for a celebration! The family gathers for a party, and the usual suspects return... sekihan, tai, mochi, so on. For us, when we took Tigger to the shrine for his O-miya Mairi, we were given a little dish set to use for O-kui Hajime. A little tiny piece of the tai, the sekihan, and the soup are placed into the dishes, and the baby is "fed." Now, in reality, it's unlikely that a 100 day old baby is ready for solid food. This is just a photo opportunity/ reason for the family to get together and have a good time. Either Dad or Mom will hold the baby and bring small amounts of the food to the babys mouth, hold it there for a moment, and repeat. When each of the foods has been "eaten," the rest of the family divides the remainder, and everyone gets to eat!
Event #5 - Hatsu Sekku (The first seasonal event)
On March 3rd, girls celebrate the Dolls festival, Hina Matsuri. On May 5th, boys celebrate Children's Day, Kodomo no Hi. The first time these festials roll around in a child's life is a big event. Girls receive their hina doll sets, and boys receive their kabuto, a replica samurai helmet (sized down for display only). These displays are quite expensive, and often are the responsibility of the grandparents to purchase. For my son, we went to a store that specialized in these displays, where there were literally hundreds of armor sets to choose from. Anything from a simple helmet to a famous samurai's helmet replica to a full set of armor. On the girls side, its similar. The most simple doll set consists of the bride and groom. From there, more and more dolls can be added until you have almost the entire wedding party, including 3 ladies in waiting, 5 musicians, two archers, and a host of wedding gifts. We managed to decide on a replica of Date's helmet, and displayed it through April and May. We will display it each year until he finishes elementary school!
Event #6 - I sai ni naru (Turning one)
Congratulations! You made it all the way around the sun! In addition to the very common traditions of getting presents, eating cake, and generally having a fuss made of you on your very special day, Japan has a couple of traditions that it has saved for this! Actually, it's like two events mixed together. It's called erabitori, meaning "picking one up," and involves one kilo of mochi, a bunch of random objects, and one little baby who just turned one. The mochi is put in a bag and tied to the baby's back (we decided to break it into two sections and put one on his back and one on his front, to even him out). Then, the baby in encouraged to totter over to a selection of objects across the room. The idea is that whatever object the baby picks up first is going to predict what his future occupation will be. Traditional objects include a writing brush, an abacus, and a set of chopsticks. More modern choices have been making their way into the tradition, such as make-up, microphones, or running shoes. Tigger made it almost all the way across the room before he had a little breakdown from the weight dragging him down, but managed to make it the rest of the way by crawling. His choice? The microphone. The prediction? He will be an entertainer of some sort. Well, I guess we will see!