Being Born in Japan: Mystery and Traditions

Being Born Japanese
In every culture there are a lot of interesting, and sometimes curious traditions and superstitions related to pregnancy and childbirth. The Country of the Rising Sun is no exception. In the past, careful observance of the rituals was the key to a successful delivery, but now the Japanese attach less importance to the rituals, preferring the qualified medical care.

Traditional “healthy food” for pregnant women is considered to be rice, vegetables, plums and fish, especially sardines. Dishes of squid and for some reason the persimmon are forbidden, there is a belief that they “cool the uterus”, being harmful for the fetus. In Japan, they say that a pregnant woman needs warm for the same reasons. But she can eat ice cream with no limitations. A very bad omen is eating crustaceans with claws: crayfish, crabs, lobsters. There is an opinion that children in this case may grow up to be thieves.


A pregnant woman should not look at the flame for a long time – it is considered that the child may be born with the birthmarks. While sitting cross-legged, it is hard for the fetus “to breathe”. Though these rituals have no logical explanation and, perhaps, a little curious, and yet some Japanese prefer to follow them “just in case”. However, many Japanese, especially young people, have never heard of them, as it is often the case for the society where there is a collision of modern and traditional cultures.

In contrast to superstitions associated with food, the importance of which is often disregarded, the future mothers try not to go to funerals, because the spirit of the deceased can pick up the fragile soul of a newborn baby in the afterlife. If still attending a funeral is necessary, for example, in case of the death of a husband or a father, a pregnant woman dresses all in black, denying the white color of the death.

During the fifth month of pregnancy the religious Japanese women visit the temple, praying to the gods for successful childbirths. This ritual is called an Anzan: a pregnant woman receives a white belt with a dog image, as an amulet. The belt serves for a practical purpose – to support the abdomen which is rather big by the terms.

Anzan ritual
Let the baby be born healthy.
Let the childbirth be easy for the mother and the baby.

The Badge of Motherhood

The Badge of Motherhood
The Government of Japan obliges the clinics to give small badges, along with a package of documents and manuals for the future mothers, which give the right to use priority seats in transport and are intended to draw public attention to the problems of motherhood. Most Japanese women are shy to enjoy these privileges, as in the early terms the pregnancy is usually unnoticeable. However, an even greater number of women hesitate to wear the badge. Not so long ago a public opinion poll showed that about 60% of Japanese men have never heard of such a badge.

Роды в Японии
The Japanese use anesthesia in childbirth relatively rarely, a cesarean section is usually performed only for medical reasons. However, it’s considered impolite to shout during birth, so women are moaning pretty loudly. In recent decades, a husband is permitted to attend the birth. Previously, it was forbidden, and there were only doctors and nurses in the delivery room. However, despite of the possibility, most Japanese men neglect it and often spend the day of the childbirth at work, as usual. Sometimes, a doula assists a woman during the childbirth, instead of a husband. A doula is usually a woman, who provides emotional support during childbirth and also uses sessions of alternative medicine to reduce contraction pain during delivery. She turns on relaxing music, helps to breathe correctly, does a foot massage and so on. Depending on the family income, the birth is mostly covered by the policy of obligatory medical insurance and completely by the additional insurance policies, given to the employees of the company; the maximum amount of payments will not exceed 100,000 yen, about 1,000$.

For some people it may seem weird, but there is one custom that Japanese often retain the cord and keep it dried in a wooden box. Doctors remember it, and may even ask a foreigner woman whether they need to keep and give her the umbilical cord.


The Newborn
Little one

Japanese babies are born with black hair and dark eyes. Hafu children from mixed marriages sometimes have dark-blue eyes for the first few days after birth.

Depending on the severity of the delivery process, women stay in the hospital for a period ranging from one to two weeks. In public hospitals, wards are ordinary for 3-6 persons. Usually, the baby is not shown to the relatives and friends during the first seven days. By the end of the first week the newborn is given a name. Previously, children were often given names after the time of a year, or any natural phenomena that occurred in the time of their birth (rain, snow, snowstorm, high waves, etc.), or the place where the child was born. Now the children are often named to honor grandparents.

In order not to burden the husband with troubles, the woman with a newborn often lives with her parents for about a month after the discharge from the hospital. During this period she does not have household duties, such as: cleaning, cooking and washing up, which in this case a grandmother performs. On the 30th – 32nd day the family visits the temple in order to render gratitude to the gods for the happy birth; this ritual is called “Omiya Mairi” and usually gathers the whole family and relatives. After Omiya Mairi a woman with a child usually begins to live with her husband again.

Citizenship and Paternity

In Japan, the citizenship is recognized only by blood; at least one parent should be a citizen of Japan. In case a child is born abroad, it is necessary to hand in a special application to the consulate or embassy during the first three months after the delivery. On the basis of the given notification later one can get a Japan passport, otherwise a child looses a right for the citizenship and is obliged to undergo difficult procedure of naturalization in Japan, which is a little bit simpler than for the foreigners but still lasting for years. Sometimes, rather unpleasant situations happen when Japanese parents bring the child, born in the United States, to Japan without undergoing the procedure of registration of the citizenship or a passport in the right way. The baby is allowed into the country on the US passport, but 90 days later, the child is automatically considered to be an illegal immigrant and becomes a subject for deportation to the United States without the right to return to Japan.

In Japan, it is allowed for children to have dual citizenship until they reach adulthood, then he or she must either renounce their second citizenship to stay in Japan or leave the Country of the Rising Sun.

Children of foreigners, born in Japan, are stateless and must undergo the procedure of obtaining a passport at the consulate or embassy of their parents.

Single mothers and children born out of wedlock
In the distant past, it was considered shameful for an unmarried woman to have a baby, but in modern Japan, there are a lot of single mothers. Children, born out of wedlock, can get the name and relationship to the family of the father if the man agrees to admit paternity and is listed as the father on the birth certificate. Biological fatherhood is of no importance here, the other person can be a father. Children, born from adultery in marriage, are automatically considered to be children of the husband and not the biological father, unless the father agrees to complete the adoption process that sometimes creates curious situations in cases of inheritance.

In Japan, there is no such a payment as alimony; but an ex-husband usually has to pay a sum of 2-3 million yen (20-30 thousand dollars) during several years after a divorce. Though, there are many government programs, developed to make the lives of such families easier: the welfare benefit seikatsu hougo, as well as a possibility of free or very cheap education at the university. But still, Japanese women prefer to stay officially married, even if the spouses have been living separately for a long time, in order not to lose their social status. After a divorce, a man is given a priority for the custody of the children, in contrast to Russia and many other countries, as the divorced men usually do not maintain any relationship with ex-wives and children. However, the Japanese marriage, as well as the Japanese divorce is a topic for another article.

In Japan, only condoms are available everywhere, you need a doctor’s prescription to get birth control pills.

Some Statistics…
The fertility rate – is the average birth rate in the country. In order to compensate for the natural population decline, it should be at least 2.1. In Japan, the replacement rate is equal to 1.21. This means that within a generation the population of Japan will decrease by almost half, unless any drastic changes happen. It is believed that when the index shows less than 1.5 – it is irreversible for the state as a society. However, Japanese society is monolithic, and more than a tough migration policy allows the Japanese not to worry about that in a couple of hundred years, any other nation will settle in the archipelago. On the other hand, low fertility leads to the so-called aging of the nation, more and more pensioners with ever-increasing pension contributions are like the burden to bear for the shortening number of young people of working age.

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