Friday, October 21, 2005

Traditional Baby Mementos in Japan

As you might expect, different countries have different traditions when it comes to newborns and baby's first year of life. While babies are of course treasured the world over, there are distinct differences in terms of what kind of things parents are sure to save from the first year. As you might expect, pictures are fairly common keepsakes in developed nations. But there are also some unusual mementos that parents traditionally save. For example, in the United States, you've surely heard that in the past parents were likely to save and bronze baby's first pair of shoes. Well, in Japan, there are two other items that are kept and treasured as baby mementos: a part of the umbilical cord, and a lock of hair.

Usually, people react with surprise (and maybe a bit of disgust) when I tell them that parents often keep part of the umbilical cord in Japan. But that's really an unfair (even if silent) judgment on another culture. One of the reasons I heard for this tradition is that the umbilical cord, which is the baby's lifeline while it is in the mother's womb, represents what is hoped to be a lifelong, loving bond between parent and offspring.

Actually, the parents don't have to do anything in order to preserve the piece of umbilical cord. It is presented by the hospital a day or so after the birth. A tiny piece of the umbilical cord (which has been dried out by then) is wrapped tightly in wax paper (so you really can't even see it) and then put into a small keepsake wooden box. The box is likely to have a label containing the important stats from the birth, such as the baby's height, weight, name, and time of delivery. Not many people would actually open the box, unwrap the piece of cord, and examine it. Instead, it's just enough to know that it is there.

A second unique baby memento that many Japanese people choose to keep is the first lock of hair. Instead of just snipping the hair off and wrapping it up, the Japanese make something called a fude, which looks like a paintbrush. Fude actually were used quite commonly to compose the kanji characters of the Japanese writing system. The baby keepsake fude, however, is unique in that the bristles are comprised of -- you guessed it -- baby's first lock of hair!

Now it goes without saying that no one actually uses the baby fude in order to write. Instead, the paintbrush is displayed in an ornamental box. The handle of the brush is often engraved with a good luck message of some kind, as well as baby's name and birth date. In addition, depending on the type of display box the parents purchase, you can also keep a picture and baby's embossed handprints and footprints in the same case. Whereas the umbilical cord memento is free, a fude with a display case usually costs several hundred dollars.

Now that you know about two very common baby keepsakes in Japan, you have a couple more memento options for when your first or next baby comes along!

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