KA-Japan has welcomed many KA-babies into the group recently. First-time moms in Japan may be getting used to how things are done differently here (and yes, many things are different from back home). No matter how strange it may seem, baby’s well-being is a priority for everyone from grandma to grandpa, and all those other older Japanese women who want to come up and pinch your baby’s cheeks!
Just when you think you’ve gotten things under control, your in-laws may be preparing for baby’s omiya mairi, or first visit to the shrine. This is just the first of many rites of passage that a child in Japan will experience. This is also the first serious family photo-op often involving expensive photo shoots at a studio. Whether this is your first or fifth omiya mairi, try not to stress out. Let the in-laws guide you through and enjoy this as a cultural experience.
Omiya Mairi (First visit to shrine)
This rite is similar to the Christian christening or baptism ceremony. Traditionally, a newborn boy is brought to the shrine for blessings 31 days after birth, and a girl at 33 days. Prayers for a healthy life are given to the Usubana Gami (tutelary god).
Often, the child’s kimono is presented from the mother’s side of the family. The kimono is more like a large coat which covers the child and the person carrying the child, who is often the paternal grandmother.
Because it is said that demons enter from the back, the kimono has no back seam. The back is elaborately decorated with a Semamori (back amulet) to keep the demons away. The sleeves are open and not stitched together. In the old days, the sleeves would be sewn up later so the child could wear the kimono at festive ceremonies such as Boy’s Day or at New Year. Various lucky items are attached to the kimono’s back strings including a fan in a celebratory envelop, an amulet, red and white strings for tying on envelops of money received from relatives, as well as a den-den drum and toy paper mache dog toy to keep the child happy.
In Kansai, the kanji character 大 (big) is written in red in ink on a boy’s forehead, and the kanji 小 (small) on a girl’s forehead in hopes that the child will grow up healthy and cheerful.
Another important rite is Okuizome, baby’s first meal, served anywhere between baby’s 100th and 120th day after birth. The meal usually consists of a soup, fish, beans, vegetables and rice are served on beautiful red laquerware. The actual dishes vary from region, and each has a significant meaning. Don’t worry if you are exclusively breastfeeding. Baby doesn’t actually eat the food. A grandparent or older relative will just pretend to feed baby.
Oba-chan’s Tips for Omiya Mairi
Don’t be offended if your mother-in-law plans and schedules the entire ceremony. It is common for the maternal grandparents present the kimono, but not attend the actual ceremony. The paternal grandmother holds the child out of concern for the mother’s body so soon after childbirth.
When you do visit the shrine, follow this order:
Bow before entering the Torii gate
At the Temizuya (hand washing basin), rinse hands – left hand then right
Put some water in a cupped hand and rinse your mouth (don’t drink the water at this point)
Throw money into the offering box
Ring the bell to wake up the gods
Make two bows, two claps
Place hands together and say a short prayer
At omiya mairi and other rites of passage, you may be ushered inside. The priest will say some prayers and may serve omiki sake.
Do you have any Japanese traditions that you’d like to know about? Write them in the comment field and I’ll try to post!
Sarah is a long-time resident born and raised in Japan. She spends her time trying to raise her children, translating and making soy candles on the side. She loves the beach, paddle boarding, mountain lakes and Japanese beer :)