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Japanese Childhood Rituals, Milestones, and Traditions
Séverine Perronnet

Séverine Perronnet

Editor, Cultural Perspectives at the Parent Voice, Magazine
Born and raised in Lyon, France, Severine met her Indian husband in Beijing, China, and raises her daughter in Brussels, Belgium. Read More under "Meet the Team".
Séverine Perronnet

In Part II of our Cultural Perspective on Japan, we discuss Japanese childhood rituals, milestones, and traditions.

To read Part I, ‘Ninkatsu to Ansei: Pregnancy to Postpartum the Japanese Way,’ click here

Childhood: Rituals, Milestones, and Traditions

Mikkaiwai

At three days of life, the mikkaiwai – third day rite – occurs. The baby is given a bath for the first time and wears its first clothes, or ubugi.

Oshichia

When the baby is seven days old, its name is announced during oshichia, a very private naming ceremony to which only the grandparents are invited. The invitation bears calligraphy of the name of the child, as well as the birth date. The baby is dressed in white, as a symbol of purity and presented with shodo, or silver plates bearing its name.

Photo Courtesy: Keiko Tsuboi Dey-Chao and Family


A baby’s name is chosen based on its meaning, and on the number of strokes composing the characters of the name. Sometimes the help of a monk is required to choose the name of the baby. It is an important process, and Japanese people believe that a name plays a role in the destiny of its bearer. It is also common to name children after their grandparents.

Nowadays, it is quite fashionable to choose a kira-kira name – a character with pronunciation that is difficult to guess (Japanese use Chinese characters, Kanji and pronunciation of characters can vary). The name of the baby is never announced before birth. Instead, a nickname with an especially horrible meaning (like “mud face”) is used so that the gods will not get jealous or bring harm to the baby.

Omiya mairi

The first visit to the temple is called omiya mairi, and occurs at 31 days for boys, and 32 days for girls. The baby is presented to the gods and parents ask for their protection. Babies wear traditional clothes during the ceremony, and are held by their paternal grand-mother. Traditionally mothers didn’t attend this ceremony as they were not allowed to leave the house before 100 days.

Okuizome

Okuizome. Photo Courtesy: Keiko Tsuboi Dey-Chao and Family

Okuizome

When the baby is 100 days old, the family celebrates okuizome, a weaning ceremony during which the baby receives its first solid food. The meaning behind the ritual is so that the child never suffers from hunger during its life. Each prepared dish has a special meaning, and one of the dishes is a stone from the shrine, so that the child will have strong teeth. The eldest person of the same sex as the baby pretends to give food to the baby.

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Hatsuzekku

Hatsuzekku is the first seasonal festival of the baby, celebrated on March 3rd for girls and May 5th for boys. Little girls receive a set of traditional dolls, and little boys samurai dolls and helmet.

Japanese Hatsu Tanjo

Hatsu tanjo

During hatsu tanjo, or first birthday, a big rice cake of 1.8kg with the name of the baby written in red over a white background, must be carried by the baby. This symbolizes the fact that the baby will never lack food, health, and enman, a Japanese principle encompassing the notions of harmony, peace, completion, and satisfaction.

Shichi-go-san

Shichi-go-san, meaning “seven, five, three”, is a special festival during which children aged seven, five and three go to the temple or shrine dressed in traditional clothing. They are given candies in the shape of long sticks, symbolizing a long life, wrapped in a bag decorated with cranes and turtles, two animals known for their exceptional longevity.

Seijin shiki

Finally, the Japanese say goodbye to childhood during seijin-shiki, a coming of age ceremony held on January 15th, for anyone having celebrated their 20th birthday – the age of majority in Japan. The ceremony happens at the local prefecture, and the local official gives a speech in which he explains the new adults’ duties. Young ladies usually go to the beauty salon on this occasion and dress in furisode, a long-sleeved kimono. Young men dress in kimono with hakama (trousers), or Western suits. After the sober morning ceremony, they often take photos and have a drink

 

Japanese women wearing kimonos pose for pictures as they attend a Coming of Age Day celebration ceremony at an amusement park in Tokyo January 9, 2017.

 

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Special thanks to Keiko Tsuboi Dey-Chao for her help and for sharing her beautiful photographs.





Editor’s Note:  Some of the views and traditions explained in the articles presented in Cultural Perspectives may not align with your own sensibilities. To that point, every culture is ethnocentric in their own way and it is easy to judge other cultures through the lenses of one’s own. We urge you to consider the contents of these articles as part of a broader culture, shaped by religions and beliefs that have evolved over many centuries to result in its truly unique nature evident today.

If you would like to share aspects of your culture related to childhood traditions or others, please email us at mypitch@theparentvoice.com or our cultural perspectives editor directly at severine@theparentvoice.com. 

the author

Born and raised in Lyon, France, Severine met her Indian husband in Beijing, China, and raises her daughter in Brussels, Belgium. Read More under “Meet the Team”.

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