Japanese have a very special custom when a baby celebrate its first birthday.


Mochi for the first birthday

It is the custom in Japan to let the child carry a pack of mochi. And not only a few grams, but 10 (the 合 is a volumetric unit used for rice, equivalent to 0.18 liter, that is, about one cup; 10 represent about 3.3 kilogram rice!).

The mochi is packed in a beautiful Japanese paper (washi 和紙, see picture), and it is often made of two colors: pink and white, because these colors (in fact red and white) are the symbol of celebration and feast in Japan, as illustrated by the kanji 寿 kotobuki on the pack. Red and white are also the traditional colors of New Year in Japan.

Some of you are probably shocked and think: “What a shame! Let a poor baby carry 3 kilos of mochi!”, but I heard several explanations to this curious custom.

Mochi is packed in a towel (furoshiki)

Mochi is packed in a towel (furoshiki)

  • If the one year-old child can walk, he will probably tease his parents and cause a lot of trouble by wandering here and there. The load of mochi would be intended to prevent the child from walking away and trick his parents.
  • The quantity of “10 go” of mochi corresponds to 1 sho (一升 isshô, that is about 1800cc). This quantity isshô, is pronounced the same way as the expression “for the whole life” (written differently, though: 一生), and expresses the wish that the child will always have something to eat.
  • Another explanation, from someone from Hokkaido (北海道): if the child is a girl, this custom would be aimed at preventing her to find a husband living far away from her parents.

The child carries mochi on the front and on the back

The child carries mochi on the front and on the back

Although these explanations seem outdated (except maybe for the child teasing his parents, this is still the case today, but how would the parents have fun otherwise?), this custom is nonetheless still widespread nowadays.

The mochi is first packet in a kind of towel called furoshiki 風呂敷. A furoshiki, which is originally a bath towel (furo 風呂 = bath, and shiki 敷 = spread [a linen etc.]), serves many purposes: to get dry of course, but also to pack a bundle etc.

Then, one lets the baby carry (背負う seou = carry on ones back) the bundle of mochi. But this little game usually does not last long, because the child will start crying and shouting to be delivered.

This quite a strange custom, which seems like the symbol of an important milestone, and bears the wishes of the parents for their child who is rushing into life.