When Japanese parents welcome a precious "aka-chan" -- or little red one -- into their lives, the immediate goal is to establish a tight familial bond with baby. The aim in the beginning is to allow the mothers plenty of time to recharge to prepare for the upcoming duties of motherhood.
Oshichiya Naming Ceremony
Japanese parents participate in naming ceremonies called "oshichiyas." Oshichiyas take place roughly a week after the newborn has entered the world. These ceremonies are extremely intimate, and most relatives and friends aren't invited. It isn't uncommon for grandparents and other immediately family members to make appearances at these ceremonies, however. The point of the exclusivity is not only to allow the family together time, but to also provide the mother with some much needed rest, relaxation and recovery time. The babies wear entirely white during the ceremony, as a symbol of purity. They are presented with "shodos" during these naming ceremonies. These ornamental plates indicate their names and are typically placed on walls. It's extremely common for children to be their grandparents' namesakes.
Newborn Japanese bodies are believed to embody godliness, which is why they're dressed completely in white. The country's native Shinto religion associates the color white with a clean and untarnished state. When they reach 17 days in age, they're finally believed to be actual children, rather than gods. When this happens, they make the transition from white attire to attire of different colors.
Conserving the Umbilical Cord
Hospitals in Japan tend to save the umbilical cords after births. They carefully package the cords inside wooden boxes and present them to the proud mothers upon their departure from the hospital. Japanese mothers typically cherish the umbilical cords, allowing the child to look at it when they're older. These cords are thought to have a strong link to the well-being of the babies, which is why Japanese parents look after them so well.
Recuperation is a big thing following the birth of children in Japan. New Japanese mothers often retreat to their parents' residences for upward of a month post-labor. Grandmothers often take over all obligations, from handling transportation needs to clean-up.
Omiyamairi describes a prominent Japanese ritual that involves taking babies to the nearest Shinto shrines. Omiyamairis generally take place when boys and girls are 31 and 33 days old, respectively, although some geographic variations exist. Parents dress the babies up in detailed kimonos. The goal of these visits is, essentially, to get the children acquainted with the protective spirits surrounding them. Friends are encouraged to attend omiyamairis, where they typically bear gifts.
Food and Newborns
Food is a common present for newborn Japanese babies. When people offer food to newborns, it's considered to be an offering of power. When newborns take food from others -- whether neighbors, friends or family -- they're essentially taking power, too.
Some Japanese customs are centered around the actual day the baby is born. In the past, only midwives and doctors watched over the births of Japanese babies. Nowadays, fathers are common fixtures in the birthing rooms. Screaming due to the pain and discomfort of labor is usually frowned upon and considered a familial humiliation.
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- Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine: Passport to Pregnancy: Traditions From Around the World
- Sources of Japanese Tradition; William Theodore De Bary and Arthur E. Tidemann
- Gift Wrapping; Kunio Ekiguchi
- University of Hawaii Division of Nursing & Allied Health: Japanese Traditions - Pregnancy & Childbirth
- The Best Baby Names in the World; J.M. Congemi
- Embodying Culture - Pregnancy in Japan and Israel; Tsipy Ivry
- Japan -- The Cycle of Life; C.W. Nicol
- Japanese Culture and Behavior; Takie Sugiyama Lebra and William P. Lebra
- Japanese Girls and Women; Alice Mabel Bacon