Okuizome - a celebration of life and food

Principle 10: Use and value diversity

Our youngest son, Sen, has been on breast milk for six months and has been pretty keen to explore other taste sensations - like the floor, seat harness, basically anything that he can reach. Kunie has been actively sharing her cultural heritage with our two boys, speaking to them in Japanese, preparing traditional meals and sharing some of the customs. Food is a cultural focus in Japan, much more so than in Australia, and the Okuizome ritual welcomes children to the joys of food.

Okuizome is a traditional Japanese ceremony that has been around for about 1000 years. It was once common for babies to die before reaching the 100th day milestone, in more recent times the ritual is held at around six months. Special dishes are prepared for the baby, with the hope that he / she will always have enough food in his life. The colour theme of the food and dishes is red, which brings luck in many Asian cultures. The food that is presented on the ceremonial tray usually includes:
  • Fish, commonly the celebratory 'tai' (Snapper), which should have its head and tail still attached symbolising the strengthening of the neck.
  • Beans, representing loyalty and diligence, since the Japanese word for beans, 'mame' is a homophone for these virtues.
  • Boiled Vegetables, usually seasonal and include some 'kombu' (kelp) whose Japanese name reminds native speakers of the word 'yorokobu' (to be glad).
  • Soup, in our case 'miso'
  • Rice, the celebratory sticky rice called 'sekihan'
  • and a Smooth Pebble, presented for the baby to bite, representing the growth of strong, healthy teeth.
While these dishes are all presented to Sen, he doesn't actually eat any of them, which seems a bit cruel. Instead we fed him some stewed cherry plums which we harvested from trees in the back yard.

We invited people of all ages to be a part of the celebration, people who we felt would be a part of his life. About half of the 35 guests were local, as well as some from the city and others from way out bush. We even had Sen's grandparents watching on from Hiroshima via skype.

Our interpretation of the tradition included the invitation for guests to bring a special dish of their own to contribute to the feast along with a story that could be shared with us all. Some people brought food that they grew themselves, others brought dishes from their homeland, food they enjoyed as a child, our next door neighbour brought her signature dish of sausage rolls that were snapped up before I got a taste.

Guests arrive for the Okuizome. The hand painted paper fish banner at the top of the photo is called a 'koi nobori' (carp wind sock) that is traditionally flown on 'tango no sekku' (boys' day). It was originally given to Kunie's grandfather by a neighbour on the birth of his son (Kunie's father), over 70 years ago.

Food laid out for the feast with the ceremonial Okuizome dishes in the foreground.

Sen's nana holds him while he laps up the attention of local guests

Kunie pretends to feed Sen the ceremonial food as part of the ritual while Kai investigates what else there is

Kai, who enjoyed his Okuizome nearly three years ago, feeds his little brother for the first time


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