Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Traditional Baby

It appears the entire world is in uproar, tabloid headlines blaring, paparazzi flashes glittering in the noonday sun, all over a tiny royal baby!
.. it may not be MY baby, but I like to pretend.

Ray is nearly five months old now (jeez, really? where did the time go??) and oh my gosh, he is cute. CUTE!
Like, all, rolling around, giggling, touching you with hands that were not a second ago in his mouth and squishing your face with them, etc.

Why HELLO there sweetie peetie cutie pootie!
Now that we have a baby, the frosty mask of Japan is melting away.
The motto of Tokyo in particular seems to be 'leave me the f** alone and I will return the favor'.
I was just getting used to this, you really get to have privacy no matter where you are because no one talks to you, not even a hello on the elevator, which can be refreshing peace and quiet, or stifiling and lonely depending on your mood that day.
But once you have a baby? No no, no everyone in the world is your friend!
The best thing about it is, you (the foreigner) are no longer the object of attention, so you don't have to recite your entire life story just to make conversation... now the subject is what it should be, namely, what an incredibly cute baby you've got there!
(Please be specific, Takeshi asks me when I dutifully mention all the flattery Ray got today. He is possibly just as crazy for this baby than I am).
Anyway, part of the fun being in Japan is, like any culture, all of the traditions you get to experience first hand.
Takeshi is the kind of guy who would prefer to avoid anything ceremonial, to my sincere regret. He would probably never have told me about all of the rich cultural photo ops traditions that go along with babies in Japan. But luckily for me, his younger brother had a baby only a year before us, and his wife did all that stuff and told me about it. So, armed with my cultural knowledge, I got to try two new things!

Hatsu-Miya-Mairi 初宮参り (first shrine visit)
This is a Shinto custom. When your baby is about a month old, you bring them to one of the larger shrines, and the priest performs a blessing for your child. No photos were allowed inside the halls, but here's one of the outside:
Tradition is, you go in as a family and sit before a shrine, where three preists wearing special robes and perform a ceremony. One spoke the blessing in a song-like chant (it included the baby's name and date of birth), another waved a holy branch, another waved some incense. all three would join in the chant asking for the blessing for the baby's health.
The paternal grandmother holds the baby, who is draped in an adult sized fancy kimono, and bows at the proper times. when directed to by the priests we all went up as a family and bowed to the shrine, rang a little bell, and prayed (hands together, head down).
I'll be honest... when the preist called Ray's name in that chanting prayer voice, I had a little tear in my eye! sniff!

gra... grandma? You know this is too big, right?
It was performed in a group, there were three other families there. One of the other babies was crying the whole time, but not Ray! good job, little man. After the shrine visit, we took a family portrait for the occasion at a professional studio, it was a little expensive but included the kimono rental fee, which we had been allowed to take to the shrine. Ray even smiled his big new social smile, which he had just learned to do a week earlier, and I held him in my lap with the kimono draped over us for the portrait. Did I mention it was very beautiful?? I love kimonos!

A new portrait- 'the girl with the pearly baby'
It was great to have Takeshi's family with us. His brother and his wife and 1 year old son Riku came too, it was a sweet family bonding time.

The second traditional baby thing we did was 'okui-hajime' お食い初め
When the baby turns 100 or 110 or 120 days old, you make a feast for him of healthy foods. It's normally rice with azuki beans, a white-meat fish like a snapper or bass, a clear broth soup, and some pretty steamed vegetables. The theory is to prepare a meal that 'you could eat your whole life and be healthy'.
You prepare it, serve it on special adorable tiny red plates, and try to feed the baby one grain of the rice.
The shrine gave us the dishes when we did the omiya-mairi, and a little instruction book which I did my best to read. (very little help from hubby there, boo!)
I think my cooking turned out pretty good!
The white fish was provided by Takeshi the fisherman, of course. We did the ceremony on Ray's 120's day, for the simple fact that Takeshi's fishing trip plans kept being ruined by bad weather. He finally got a chance to go, and naturally he brought back about thirty fish more than we needed for the meal... sigh ;)

Here is Ray grabbing the rice, and smearing it on his shirt

You're making fun of me, aren't you. Admit it.
Mommy's fancy cooking!

the soup making a face was entirely unintentional
Drinking water from a cup at 4 months. pretty smart!

Ray gets into the spirit and helps feed his dad a whole fist.
Knuckle sandwich

If you want to see what comes up when you google for pictures of this first feast, here is a link for you. Be warned, these are lots of cute babies in silly outfits with huge seared fish larger than themselves laid before them.

One more sort of Japanese traditional thing: when a baby is born here, a relative will write his name and date of birth in kanji on a fancy paper and put it on display in the house. You're only supposed to leave it up a week or so, but I haven't had the heart to take it down, I love it so...
Here's to the many more sweet traditions to come!