Monday, June 15, 2009

Day of the Dog and other Japanese pregnancy customs

From Sheila Kitzinger`s `Rediscovering Birth`, about birth
customs all over the world.

Some extracts from the chapter about pregnancy:

"the Day of the Dog in the fifth month of pregnancy, according to the Shinto
religious calendar, is associated with the rite that celebrates the
pregnancy and guards the baby against harm. The Dog, one of the twelve
animals of the zodiac that form the ancient oriental calendar, is a
messenger from the gods and chases evil spirits away. It as an auspicious
time for the presentation of the expectant mother at the temple and for the
donning of the hara-obi, the sash that protects her baby, ensures that it
stays `down` and keep it `warm`. She goes to the Shinto temple with her
mother-in-law, and often with both prospective grandmothers, to get the obi
from the priest and have it blessed. The women pray together at the shrine."


"The oldest surviving medical text that includes guidance about pregnancy is
the Chinese `The Fundamentals of Medicine` or `Ishin-Ho`, dating from around
984AD. There are thirty volumes altogether, five of which were translated in
to Japanese in 1692 and published as `A Useful Reference Book for Women` or
`Onna Chohoki`. It teaches that fetal development is affected by a pregnant
woman`s diet and by what she sees and feels. There are recommendations for
each month of pregnancy.

"Japanese beliefs about pregnancy are all Chinese in origin. Taikyou is the
way in which an expectant mother should concentrate her life force to
`create a sage`. The Japanese dictionary definitions of the word taikyou are
as follows: `Education for unborn children. A woman should try to sit
straight, to have a correct diet, to see no evil, to listen to good music
and suitable counsel in order for her to provide a good influence for her
unborn child.` ; `During her pregnancy a pregnant woman maintains her mental
and emotional calmness and trains herself to behave better so that she can
provide a favorable influence for her unborn child`.

The word taikyou consists of the kanji characters for `teaching` and `womb`."


"Japanese parenting magazines are packed with articles about how talking to
the baby or playing music, massaging the uterus and touching the different
parts of the baby can raise a baby`s IQ level and might even produce a


"From ancient times the Japanese have had general dietary rules for pregnancy
which were themselves derived from China: sweet things hinder the baby`s
bone formation; spicy foods unsettle the baby`s soul: sour foods harm the
baby`s skin."


"Traditionally, pregnant Japanese women are not supposed to eat crab lest it
cause a transverse lie. Perhaps this is something to do with the sideways
movement of crab. Ginger root is also forbidden because the baby may have
extra digits sticking out like the fingers of the root."


"In Japan it is believed that a diet high in fruit and vegetables helps the
baby`s skin to be clear and beautiful"


"In Japan traditional philosophy regarding the value of hard work during
pregnancy has been revived and given a new twist by an obstetrician, Dr
Yoshimura, who told me that `Pregnant women have usually finished their
housework by about 8.30 am and the lie around watching TV until night time.
The men don`t come home until 7 or 8 pm, so women have nothing to do.` He
sees this as a surrender to American values introduced after the last world
war: 'I seek a return to traditional ways of living. The great evil is
industrialization. Industrialization in the cancer of mankind. We have no
antibodies to it.

"Pregnant women go to his house in the early morning to do his housework,
unaided by electricity or labour-saving equipment. They wash the floors,
sweep and cook over an open wood fire set in a pit in the ground, do
gardening and chop and saw great trunks of wood. I saw women in the final
weeks of pregnancy drawing water from the well and sawing, chopping and
stacking enormous quantities of wood in Dr Yoshimura`s grounds.

"I was invited to a meal at Dr Yoshimura`s ancient house. We knelt round the
open fire over which a heavy iron cooking pot was suspended in which fish
and cabbage leaves were boiling. Swathed in clouds of smoke, the pregnant
women attending alternately stoked the fire, producing thicker billowing
smoke that made my eyes water and choked my throat, and, in response to a
wave of the guru`s hand, threw more fish and cabbage into the bubbling water
and passed round small bowls of sake.

"Today in the West there is great concern about air pollution and its
relation to asthma and respiratory diseases and cancer. It struck me
forcibly that when household life in conducted in one room with a wood fire
with no chimney, everyone has to breathe highly polluted air, babies and
pregnant women included. This kind of ancient environment pollution is
easily forgotten but continues today over much of the world, and together
with the ever-present risk of fire, is another major health risk for women
and children.

"When I asked Dr Yoshimura how he got women to engage in this heavy labour
and endure such onerous conditions, he answered, `I have charismatic appeal
and they hear my words as from a religious master.` I was left unconvinced
by his recreation of the ancient Japanese birth culture.

"It is true that before Japan was industrialized, pregnant women in all but
the wealthiest families had to face hard physical labour of this kind, as
they still do in most countries. On the other hand, after a birth in
traditional societies, respite from physical labour is linked with rites of
postpartum segregation and nurturing by other women, and a new mother is
assured a break from work and some kind of sanctuary for a short time after
giving birth. Rather than wanting to `get back to normal` as soon as
possible after the birth, now the norm in industrialized cultures, an Asian
woman who has just had a baby expects to be cared for and to rest while
others do the work."

1 comment:

Lulu said...

Thank you for posting this! I saved your comments from my spam (when there is a link in them, they wait for me to moderate)

I found it all very interesting and I might even have to print it out to remember and speak to Shun about it.

I am going to do inu-no-hi with Shun`s mum and grandma I think in late July.