Monday, 8 May 2006

Children’s Day

It isn’t really called children’s day, you know, that, apparently, is quite an un-Japanese sop to PC-ness and inclusion. It’s actually Boy’s Day and most people still refer to it as this, because, basically, boys are allowed to have more fun in Japan than girls so they need a day especially for them, or something like that. That day is May 5th (also, by coincidence, my mother’s birthday – happy birthday mum) and is a national holiday (there is, I think, also a girl’s day, but of course it is a normal day rather than a holiday for obvious reasons (like wives/mothers aren’t allowed a day off so why should girls get one? (The views expressed here are in no way representative of the liberal, new manliness of the author, not only do I eat quiche but I can make a pretty darned fine one too))).

Anyway it was ‘Children’s’ Day on Friday last week and this was also the first proper one for the youngster, as last year he would only have been about two weeks old, and as such there are strange and wonderful traditions that need to be upheld, although actually the strange tradition was for something else, but we will come to that in time.

So on the 5th the Japanese grandparentals and uncle came over to pay their respects to the youngster and generally for lunch and a beer or two. There are two things you have to do for boys on ‘Children’s’ day, the first is to buy some Shobu. Shobu is, as far as I can tell, a worthless type of grass, or possibly weed. You can’t eat it, it doesn’t look particularly appealing and it doesn’t have an arresting fragrance. In fact it is the sort of thing that farmers, a few centuries ago, looked at and decided ‘well, we can’t actually do anything with this stuff, but it seems rampant round the rice fields, so let’s invent a ceremony for it, otherwise we’ll have to cut all the blasted stuff down and that will take forever”. Or something. So, what you have to do is hang some of this stuff around you front door on ‘Children’s’ day in honour and homage of any boys in your house. Fair enough, I guess, bit like hanging mistletoe at Christmas, possibly. Then when grandparentals come in they can nod sagely and murmur “well done on the shobu front. No, I don’t know what it’s for either”.

But then, at the end of the day, when you shobu is beginning to wilt, do you throw the stuff away? Oh no, much better than that, you have a bath with it. As I said before it seems to have no smell, or healing properties, it is grass after all, but tradition has it that you pop a couple of plants in your ofuro before your evening soak. There were even pictures on TV of local sento bath houses with baths full of the stuff. And to be fair the youngster kind of enjoyed it – well, kind of enjoyed slapping it in my face as I gave him a bath, which is pretty much the same thing, but I’m not entirely sure that was the point.

The second thing you must do for boys on ‘Children’s’ day is to buy them some imitation ceremonial samurai armour, so they grow up to be big strong warriors following the Bushido code (and to keep ceremonial armour manufacturers in business), though no one seems to actually wear samurai armour on a daily basis any more, so I think things may have moved on a little. Anyway as you can see from the photos below, we have bought the youngster some rather fine blue, black and gold armour (well, helmet) that has been on display for a week or two now. Unfortunately you can’t actually put the armour on, or even draw the little sword that comes with it, as, I assume, it might be dangerous. But still, it’s pretty cool stuff to have. Girls have to make do with a bunch of Hina dolls on their day – as I said, more fun to be a boy.

The other thing we got to do was an old, old Saitama tradition that the Guru heard about from her pregnant pals and which thought sounded like jolly good fun. The tradtion goes something like this. After a baby (boy or girl this time) has reached the ripe old age of one they take part in a ceremony called Ishoumochi where the parents go to a department store and buy a bloody great lump of mochi, weighing in at about 1.5 kilos (or about 3lbs in old money). Now mochi, if you remember, is pounded rice that forms kind of stringy mozzarella type stuff that Japanese eat lots of at new year and by which old folk are always dying as it gets all stringy in their throats and they suffocate. Anyway it is solid stuff and, again as you can see from the photo below, the lump is quite big and has kanji painted on it. The idea is to show how big and strong a baby is by tying this lump of mochi to them and then getting them to walk around with it.

Now this is jolly good fun, except, of course, for the little kid that has got to do it. The youngster did not take kindly to having 1.5kgs of mochi strapped to his back at all (I can’t imagine why). Apart from the fact that he can’t walk yet and his standing is of the tentative kind as well. But he did manage to crawl a bit, dragging the mochi behind him, which we all agreed was pretty good going and so have him a rousing hurrah. Apparently if the kid can’t do it with one lump of mochi it is because they are over balanced, so the accepted remedy is to strap two lumps to them, one front and one behind (just the 3kgs then) so as to counter balance the forces on them.

Personally I’m all for weird and wonderful traditions, especially ones I can’t understand and can humiliate my offspring with in the future, so I had another beer and watched the show.

Happy families on Children's day
Happy families on Children's day

’Children’s’ day armour
Children's day armour #2

Trying to carry the mochi
Trying to carry mochi

Playing with the mochi
Playing with the mochi

Quality time
Starting as he means to go on...

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