A First Birthday in Kumejima

Happy Birthday!  A baby’s first year is an important milestone, and it is perhaps no wonder that in a culture full of tradition, ceremony, and concerns about omens and luck that is marked with a special occasion.  I have never had any children, so I’m no expert when it comes to children’s festivals and culture, however, a friend’s child recently turned one and he shared this bit of culture with me.

Tankaue Ceremony

On Kumejima, the anniversary of a baby’s first birthday is marked by the tankaue ceremony.  It is a hogen word, and I have no idea if it is used in other parts of Japan, so feel free to chime in if you’ve heard of it else where.  The child is placed at one end of a room, and several items are placed on a table.  The child is then free to go and choose an item.

The child’s choice is meant to reflect their future.  If he chooses money, he will pursue money through his life.  If he takes rice, he will be strong.  If he takes a calligraphy brush, he will be artistic, a notebook studious, an abacus numbers oriented, a pencil well written.

Of course, a child might be swayed by things other than his mystic future.  In the case of my friend’s child, he is very into drumming.  Everyday he goes around hitting his small eisa drum.  It is perhaps no wonder, then that he was drawn to the two stick objects on the table and started using them like drumsticks, be it on an abacus, or rice.

Overall, the ceremony is an interesting look at how small islanders attempted to look into the future.  With such calamities as typhoon, earthquakes, and tsunami, it is easy to see why they might be interested in getting an idea of what might be in the future.

One other interesting note is that the ceremony can only be done when the ocean tide is coming in.  Thus the baby has to choose before 4:30 (or whenever it is going out) or that future will be taken out on the tide.

Special thanks to my friend who allowed me to use his video for this post!  Cute kid right?