In Japan there are a number of rites of passage for little ones. One of them is called okuizome (お食い初め), which is held on or around the baby’s 100th day. The name consists of two kanji characters–one for ‘eat’ (食) and one for ‘first’ (初). It’s the first time the baby eats food.
Photo by rhosoi
Actually, the baby probably won’t eat anything at all, but it’s symbolic. The ceremony is for good health and abundance. It means that the baby will never go hungry throughout its life.
The ceremony is usually done at home. The baby gets dressed up in a tiny kimono and the folks prepare a huge meal. A little table is set up for the baby. The meal consists of rice, fish, vegetables, and sometimes other foods that may have symbolic meanings.
The main course is tai (鯛, sea bream). Other foods may include umeboshi (梅干し, pickled plum), sekihan (赤飯, sticky red rice usually eaten during ceremonies), sumashijiro (すまし汁, a kind of clear soup), and nimono (煮物, a dish of stewed vegetables). Sweets may also be included. Sometimes the parents give the baby a stone to nibble on. It’s supposed to help the baby develop strong teeth.
After the food is served, the parents pick up bits of it with chopsticks and press it against the baby’s lips. The baby looks at its parents in a confused way as if to ask, ‘Where’s the nipple at?’ Pictures are taken and baby cheeks are pinched. The parents eat their meal and, when done, descend on the baby’s. The baby doesn’t really care.
Breastfeeding is very common in Japan and from the age of about a hundred days, parents begin to introduce the child to the wonderful world of food. Soft foods are gradually introduced into the baby’s diet, but nothing like the huge fish staring up from the little tot from its plate during the okuizome dinner.
Okuizome is the third official baby celebration. Oshichiya (お七夜, the seventh night) is a Buddhist ceremony for longevity that’s held seven nights after the baby’s birth. The second ceremony is omiyamairi (お宮参り, visit to the shrine), where the family takes the baby to a local shrine to report its birth to the local gods and thank them for making it a good one. Omiyamairi is similar to a christening ceremony in the Christian tradition.
Babies in Japan are busy
Okuizome is an important celebration in the life of a Japanese baby and photo albums across the country are filled with cute pictures of little ones in kimonos with plates of giant fish and other treats set before them.