Celebrating 1st birthday is big deal in Okinawa

By Bill Charles

Rich shall I become! A baby picking up one of the items laid out on tatami on its first birthday is believed in Okinawa to predict its future.

The birth of a child is always special, yet local customs dictate an even more elaborate set of celebrations.

In Okinawa, celebrate the first birthday of every child is the most special occasion possible. It’s called “Tanka-yu-eh.”. “Tanka“ means 1 year old and “yu-eh“ means celebration. On this day the family prepares a festival feast and invites all relatives and family members to celebrate together. It is more regally celebrated on a large scale when it’s the first child or first baby boy.

The biggest highlight of the celebration is the ritual of tanka-uranai – the one year fortune telling — to predict what the child has in store for his or her future. In front of the one-year-old are placed the following items; a Japanese abacus, festive red rice, a book, ink and ink stone, money, and in case of a girl, a pair of scissors. While the baby crawls to choose item he or she wants, family members and friends hold their breath and wait.

The first item the child reaches for is known to be its potential in the future. The Japanese abacus means they will be good with math, which makes them good business people; the red rice means they will never run out of food; the book means they will love to study, while money means they will never have difficulties earning money. The ink and ink stone means having the potential to be a writer and the scissors are just for girls, meaning they will be a good housewife and mother.

Although this custom continues within Okinawan families, it is done with a more modern-age style. Instead of using a Japanese abacus, most families use calculators or some even put in an instrument as one the items as a wish for their child to be a famous musician. No matter which item the child picks, blessings by the whole family and friends is given. And as the child grows old, many may forget what item their child picked, but the fact that the ritual was done is never forgotten.