Wednesday, February 09, 2011

First Birthday Customs in Japan

Taiga is one-year old! This may not seem like a big deal to you but it was for us. :) He now weighs 10.5 kgs. (about 23 lbs.). It's mostly in his cheeks (hoho). He's not quite walking by himself but uses his pushcart by himself and will be walking any day now.

I want to share a couple of "1st birthday" customs here in Japan. One is for the birthday baby to carry red & white (traditional celebratory colors) mochi (pounded rice) wrapped in furoshiki (wrapping cloth) and strapped on his back. The mochi's quantity is "issho" which represents 1.8 kgs. or about 4 lbs. of rice. The word "issho" has another meaning which is "for the whole life", so carrying the mochi also has the significance of good health and prosperity for the child's entire life. Taiga's name is written in kanji on the mochi.

One more custom is the baby is given a selection of items to choose from. The object the baby chooses is said to represent his/her future occupation. Traditionally, these have been an abacus, a writing brush, money and rice. These days, however, families can have fun by putting out all kinds of things representing different fields and occupations. We laid out a basketball to represent an athlete, a calculator for a business type of job, a bottle of vitamins for a doctor or pharmacist, a piano for a musician or artist and an apple for a teacher. Watch video below to see what Taiga's future job will be. :)

I should mention that when I talked to my students about these customs, only about half of them knew. The other half may come from a different region in Japan that doesn't have these customs or may have simply forgotten about them. I enjoy celebrating using Japanese customs and am glad my wife is very knowledgeable about such things.