After 100 days, have some fun the Japanese way!
The tradition of Okuizome (お食い初め) was created to mark a milestone in a baby’s growth and survival — one hundred days! Originally, it began during the Heian era from 794 to 1185 — when Japanese culture really began to take its own distinct form within East Asia.
Heian (or modern-day Kyoto) was the capital city during this peaceful époque. And so without the troubles of war, the culture and written language began to flourish and bloom with many of the classic works of literature, art, rituals, and traditions like The Tale of Genji or the naturalistic yamato-e style paintings. (via The Met)
However, the pleasures of literacy and painting were left mostly to the aristocrats like the powerful Fujiwara clan. Most of the peasantry had to find their own way to make ends meet and survive during this time without refrigeration and sanitation. Babies in particular were vulnerable to the many diseases and lack of food — which led to a higher infant mortality rate. As such, when a little one made it past 100 days, it was an occasion worth celebrating with food and family!
Now, even in the Heian period, babies cannot really eat at 100 days so really it’s more of a “show” than an actual first bite. What families do is to just bring the food to the baby’s mouth and feign eating. However, this fun game of pretend is supposed to “promise” strong teeth and longevity — two ideas in Japanese culture that have been linked together for centuries.
According to Oiwaizen, an Okuizome meal company based in Japan, the kanji character 年 which represents the word “aged” but also “aged teeth”. In classical literature, the idea of strong teeth and old age has been inextricably referenced many times to symbolise a long, healthy life.
On top of that lovely sentiment, the ceremony also symbolises a prayer for the baby to have a life unmarred by hunger and weakness.
So, now that you know all about the tradition, what do you need for an Okuizome for your little one?
Kind of like New Year’s food, each dish of this “iwai zen” (celebratory meal) has a meaning. For example, red snapper is typically the fish of choice in most regions and symbolises joy and celebration. The clear clam broth is for the baby to find a good partner. The red bean rice is meant for good luck. We also include a simmered dish and vinegared foods to the set just like a typical teishoku.
There’s a pattern to “feeding” as well; firstly, simple white rice. After that, you follow with the soup, then rice again, then fish. Really, you can give your baby in any pattern you’d like — just make sure to start with the rice!
Check out this video by Recipe lab to see how they made their Okuizome in five parts from scratch!
2. Teething Stone
The teething stone is supposed to symbolise the promotion of strong teeth. In theory, the baby is supposed to “chew” on the small stone to give their newly growing teeth a workout! However, in these modern times, parents don’t actually put the stone in the child’s mouth as it could be a choking hazard. Instead, what you can do is to put the stone right outside of the baby’s reach near the mouth and take a photo. Some parents also just tap their chopsticks on the stone and place the tips in the baby’s mouth to lightly chew or suck on.
So do you use just any old stone? Well, up to you!
In Japan, you can buy a small stone from some shrines, bring a small stone to be blessed at the shrine, get a small stone passed down from your family’s past okuizomes or lastly, just pick one up for yourself! If you want to hunt for your own precious stone for your precious one, we recommend picking up a stone that’s in a shape that draws your eye and from an area that speaks to you — without a lot of foot traffic!
As with most Japanese things, when you ask how things should be done most will say “it depends”. When choosing the tableware for your okuizome, it first depends on the colour. For boys, the ware are all red vermillion bowls with a glossy lacquer. Meanwhile, the girls get the same items with a red interior and a black exterior.
There are five bowls total, with one meant for soup, another meant for rice, and the rest each for pickled vegetables, simmered foods, and the special plate for the teething stones. (The red snapper can be set on a different tray or with the simmered dish). The placement of the bowls typically depended on your Buddhist sect, but nowadays the rather atheist population of Japan picks a placement that is the most aesthetically pleasing to their eye and their photos.
If you’re not into the traditional colour styles for both boys and girls (or want to just use the same bowls for all of your children’s 100 day meals), choose any bowl you like! Just pick a design that feels right to you — maybe even let your little one pick out the bowls for their meal.
In ancient tradition, the baby wears white for the first 100 days of their life as they are still deemed a “child from God”. After around their 100th day, they can wear coloured clothes as they are now deemed to be of the “human world”. As such, if you want to go all out for your 100 day celebration, you can dress your baby in a white kimono during the day and change them into a coloured one in the evening!
If you’re on a budget, can’t be fussed, or even in an area where you can’t get your hands on baby kimonos, don’t worry! Some modern Japanese parents also dress their babies in simple rompers or even a western-style costume.
Last but not least, family. Okuizome is a family occasion where we celebrate new life and happiness! While usually the parents feed the star of the show, the grandparents also step in as well to give positive energy and their fortune of long life to the baby.
One thing we want to mention is that since the baby’s immune system is still vulnerable at 100 days — the okuizome isn’t really meant to be a big affair. Your immediate family are typically the only ones in attendance and so just remember to take great photos for the rest of your loving “village”!
We know it’s difficult to find shops specifically dedicated to okuizome products and food outside of Japan, so don’t feel disheartened if you feel you don’t have everything to the T. Just get some of the basics and leave the details to your taste! Remember that this is a happy, joyful celebration for you and your baby.
Next up, pregnancy foods! As a nation known for longevity and health, what do Japanese women eat to support their bodies and their babies? Check back September 18th at 12pm EST for some health tips and recipes. In the meantime, follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more fun facts, photos, and tidbits!