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Tales of Old Japan




In the fifth month of a woman's pregnancy, a very lucky day is selected for the ceremony of putting on a girdle, which is of white and red silk, folded, and eight feet in length. The husband produces it from the left sleeve of his dress; and the wife receives it in the right sleeve of her dress, and girds it on for the first time. This ceremony is only performed once. When the child is born, the white part of the girdle is dyed sky-blue, with a peculiar mark on it, and is made into clothes for the child. These, however, are not the first clothes which it wears. The dyer is presented with wine and condiments when the girdle is entrusted to him. It is also customary to beg some matron, who has herself had an easy confinement, for the girdle which she wore during her pregnancy; and this lady is called the girdle-mother. The borrowed girdle is tied on with that given by the husband, and the girdle-mother at this time gives and receives a present.

The furniture of the lying-in chamber is as follows:—Two tubs for placing under-petticoats in; two tubs to hold the placenta; a piece of furniture like an arm-chair, without legs, for the mother to lean against;119 a stool, which is used by the lady who embraces the loins of the woman in labour to support her, and which is afterwards used by the midwife in washing the child; several pillows of various sizes, that the woman in child-bed may ease her head at her pleasure; new buckets, basins, and ladles of various sizes. Twenty-four baby-robes, twelve of silk and twelve of cotton, must be prepared; the hems must be dyed saffron-colour. There must be an apron for the midwife, if the infant is of high rank, in order that, when she washes it, she may not place it immediately on her own knees: this apron should be made of a kerchief of cotton. When the child is taken out of the warm water, its body must be dried with a kerchief of fine cotton, unhemmed.

On the seventy-fifth or hundred and twentieth day after its birth, the baby leaves off its baby-linen; and this day is kept as a holiday. Although it is the practice generally to dress up children in various kinds of silk, this is very wrong, as the two principles of life being thereby injured, the child contracts disease; and on this account the ancients strictly forbade the practice. In modern times the child is dressed up in beautiful clothes; but to put a cap on its head, thinking to make much of it, when, on the contrary, it is hurtful to the child, should be avoided. It would be an excellent thing if rich people, out of care for the health of their children, would put a stop to a practice to which fashion clings.

On the hundred and twentieth day after their birth children, whether male or female, are weaned.120 This day is fixed, and there is no need to choose a lucky day. If the child be a boy, it is fed by a gentleman of the family; if a girl, by a lady. The ceremony is as follows:—The child is brought out and given to the weaning father or sponsor. He takes it on his left knee. A small table is prepared. The sponsor who is to feed the child, taking some rice which has been offered to the gods, places it on the corner of the little table which is by him; He dips his chop-sticks thrice in this rice, and very quietly places them in the mouth of the child, pretending to give it some of the juice of the rice. Five cakes of rice meal are also placed on the left side of the little table, and with these he again pretends to feed the child three times. When this ceremony is over, the child is handed back to its guardian, and three wine-cups are produced on a tray. The sponsor drinks three cups, and presents the cup to the child. When the child has been made to pretend to drink two cups, it receives a present from its sponsor, after which the child is supposed to drink a third time. Dried fish is then brought in, and the baby, having drunk thrice, passes the cup to its sponsor, who drinks thrice. More fish of a different kind is brought in. The drinking is repeated, and the weaning father receives a present from the child. The guardian, according to rules of propriety, should be near the child. A feast should be prepared, according to the means of the family. If the child be a girl, a weaning mother performs this ceremony, and suitable presents must be offered on either side. The wine-drinking is gone through as above.

On the fifteenth day of the eleventh month of the child's third year, be the child boy or girl, its hair is allowed to grow. (Up to this time the whole head has been shaven: now three patches are allowed to grow, one on each side and one at the back of the head.) On this occasion also a sponsor is selected. A large tray, on which are a comb, scissors, paper string, a piece of string for tying the hair in a knot, cotton wool, and the bit of dried fish or seaweed which accompanies presents, one of each, and seven rice straws—these seven articles must be prepared.121

The child is placed facing the point of the compass which is auspicious for that year, and the sponsor, if the child be a boy, takes the scissors and gives three snips at the hair on the left temple, three on the right, and three in the centre. He then takes the piece of cotton wool and spreads it over the child's head, from the forehead, so as to make it hang down behind his neck, and he places the bit of dried fish or seaweed and the seven straws at the bottom of the piece of cotton wool, attaching them to the wool, and ties them in two loops, like a man's hair, with a piece of paper string; he then makes a woman's knot with two pieces of string. The ceremony of drinking wine is the same as that gone through at the weaning. If the child is a girl, a lady acts as sponsor; the hair-cutting is begun from the right temple instead of from the left. There is no difference in the rest of the ceremony.

On the fifth day of the eleventh month of the child's fourth year he is invested with the hakama, or loose trousers worn by the Samurai. On this occasion again a sponsor is called in. The child receives from the sponsor a dress of ceremony, on which are embroidered storks and tortoises (emblems of longevity—the stork is said to live a thousand years, the tortoise ten thousand), fir-trees (which, being evergreen, and not changing their colour, are emblematic of an unchangingly virtuous heart), and bamboos (emblematic of an upright and straight mind). The child is placed upright on a chequer-board, facing the auspicious point of the compass, and invested with the dress of ceremony. It also receives a sham sword and dirk. The usual ceremony of drinking wine is observed.

NOTE.—In order to understand the following ceremony, it is necessary to recollect that the child at three years of age is allowed to grow its hair in three patches. By degrees the hair is allowed to grow, the crown alone being shaved, and a forelock left. At ten or eleven years of age the boy's head is dressed like a man's, with the exception of this forelock.

The ceremony of cutting off the forelock used in old days to include the ceremony of putting on the noble's cap; but as this has gone out of fashion, there is no need to treat of it.

Any time after the youth has reached the age of fifteen, according to the cleverness and ability which he shows, a lucky day is chosen for this most important ceremony, after which the boy takes his place amongst full-grown men. A person of virtuous character is chosen as sponsor or "cap-father." Although the man's real name (that name which is only known to his intimate relations and friends, not the one by which he usually goes in society) is usually determined before this date, if it be not so, he receives his real name from his sponsor on this day. In old days there used to be a previous ceremony of cutting the hair off the forehead in a straight line, so as to make two angles: up to this time the youth wore long sleeves like a woman, and from that day he wore short sleeves. This was called the "half cutting." The poorer classes have a habit of shortening the sleeves before this period; but that is contrary to all rule, and is an evil custom.

A common tray is produced, on which is placed an earthenware wine-cup. The sponsor drinks thrice, and hands the cup to the young man, who, having also drunk thrice, gives back the cup to the sponsor, who again drinks thrice, and then proceeds to tie up the young man's hair.

There are three ways of tying the hair, and there is also a particular fashion of letting the forelock grow long; and when this is the case, the forelock is only clipped. (This is especially the fashion among the nobles of the Mikado's court.) This applies only to persons who wear the court cap, and not to gentlemen of lower grade. Still, these latter persons, if they wish to go through the ceremony in its entirety, may do so without impropriety. Gentlemen of the Samurai or military class cut off the whole of the forelock. The sponsor either ties up the hair of the young man, or else, placing the forelock on a willow board, cuts it off with a knife, or else, amongst persons of very high rank, he only pretends to do so, and goes into another room whilst the real cutting is going on, and then returns to the same room. The sponsor then, without letting the young man see what he is doing, places the lock which has been cut into the pocket of his left sleeve, and, leaving the room, gives it to the young man's guardians, who wrap it in paper and offer it up at the shrine of the family gods. But this is wrong. The locks should be well wrapped up in paper and kept in the house until the man's death, to serve as a reminder of the favours which a man receives from his father and mother in his childhood; when he dies, it should be placed in his coffin and buried with him. The wine-drinking and presents are as before.

In the "Sho-rei Hikki," the book from which the above is translated, there is no notice of the ceremony of naming the child: the following is a translation from a Japanese MS.:—

"On the seventh day after its birth, the child receives its name; the ceremony is called the congratulations of the seventh night. On this day some one of the relations of the family, who holds an exalted position, either from his rank or virtues, selects a name for the child, which name he keeps until the time of the cutting of the forelock, when he takes the name which he is to bear as a man. This second name is called Yeboshina,122 the cap-name, which is compounded of syllables taken from an old name of the family and from the name of the sponsor. If the sponsor afterwards change his name, his name-child must also change his name. For instance, Minamoto no Yoshitsuné, the famous warrior, as a child was called Ushiwakamaru; when he grew up to be a man, he was called Kurô; and his real name was Yoshitsuné."