In my Sept. 20 column in The Japan Times, I wrote about an interesting custom associated with anzan kigan (安産祈願), or praying for a safe birth. As part of the research for that column, I went to Suitengu 水天宮, a shrine near Ningyocho station on the Hibiya Line in Tokyo — one of the most famous places in the country to pray for safe birth. There I had a chance to talk to expectant mother Eriko Ide, who was there with her mother, husband and mother-in-law:
Following tradition, they timed their visit for the first inu no hi (戌の日 Day of the Dog) after she entered her 20th week of pregnancy. In Japan, dogs are a symbol for easy birth because they pop their pups out with so little trouble or pain. There are two or three days per month designated as Inu no Hi, and those are the days when things get busy at Suitengu, which is a famous shrine for safe-birth prayers.
This was a Tuesday, so the lines weren’t as long as when Inu no Hi falls on a weekend. It happened to be Eriko’s husband regular day off from work, but he said that for this he could have been excused from work (for a half day). Given how difficult it is for Japanese office workers to get time away from the office, this gives you an idea of the level of social support for this tradition.
Eriko waited about 45 minutes to pray and get a mass blessing in a group of 60 mothers-to-be. Then she lined up to rub for luck a statue of mother dog with her pups. Here’s another couple posting by the statue:
In return for a donation of 4,000 yen ($52 at the current crazy exchange rate), Eriko got a package deal that included a blessed and purified haraobi (pregnancy sash) which can be wrapped around the abdomen at this stage of a pregnancy for the well-being of baby and mother. Sashes and other goods associated with pregnancy are for sale in and near the shrine grounds:
I was there on a very hot day in August, and noted with interest that the shrine thoughtfully provides seats in the shades, and chilled oshibori hand-and-face wipes to keep the mothers-to-be comfortable while they wait. Waits can be longer than two hours on busy days, with the first hour spent standing in a line that stretches from the entrance of the shrine back to the station and beyond.