The subject of religious days in Japan can be fairly complex as most are a fusion of indigenous Shintoism, Bhuddism and whatever else was around, so if any of the following is not 100% correct to some, then my apologies in advance.
That said, one of Japan’s main religions is Shintoism, which is a mainly animistic/nature – based religion, based on the concept that kami (deities or spirits) are a part of most things, and should be worshipped in accordance with certain times of year and requirements.
As my wife is expecting our first child, she’s chosen to observe Dog Day (‘Inu no hi‘), which is every twelfth day in accordance with the Chinese calendar, known mainly around the world for its designation of years by animals. There’s also the concept that this should be done in the fifth and ninth month of pregnancy, so on June 2nd, there we were at Suitengu Jinja in Tokyo, ready to get prayed for.
Why dogs? It seems it’s believed in many cultures that dogs are thought to have very easy deliveries of many puppies, so on this day you call to the deity for dogs to deliver a healthy baby as easily as possible.
The first part requires you to wash your hands correctly from ladles in the water founts in the shrine yard, washing your hands, then mouth, then hands again, before going to have the mother-to-be’s name (and age – shock!) written in calligraphy style on some paper, and then join the queue with other pregnant ladies to be prayed for.
Every half an hour whatever group has amassed are taken to a private part of the shrine, where a monk carries out individual prayers for each woman, calling out her name, and praying for an easy, safe delivery for her and her baby.
I wasn’t there for this part, as it’s women only (and the monk I suppose), but I’m told he did a double check of our katakana name that had been thrust in front of him, as, looking around the shrine for the hour or so we were there, there wasn’t much of an international contingent.
In fact, it was just me, smiling, bowing, and observing the security guards gently moving the women in the queuing area. Really, how much security do a bunch of pregnant women and grand-parents really need?
Later, having been prayed for and looking very happy about it, my wife emerged, to pick up her ‘fukutai‘ ‘omamori‘ and ‘ofuda‘ from the shrine workers. Each of these plays a part of the Dog Day ritual, away from the shrine.
The ofuda looks like a small folded envelope, tied around the middle, and is to be kept in the family residence (i.e. our apartment) until after the birth, in a high place facing south.
After the birth this will be returned to the shrine with a gift as thanks.
An omamori is a small material pouch used as a talisman to protect. In this case, it should be placed inside the fukutai which I’ll discuss next. The only caveat with an omamori is that they should never be opened. In true Japanese spirit, I notice someone has opened an e-omamori site!
The fukutai is a belly wrap, a long piece of material the mother wraps around her ‘bump’ for a day, placing the omamori inside it. Generic fukutai can be purchased for everyday use, as they’re seen as practical for assisting back support (something my wife would appreciate). However, this one should be worn for just one day, then used to make baby clothes (but not nappies) or something positive for the child.
So, with these items in hand we passed by the small bronze statue of a dog and it’s puppy which is also often touch for good luck too, and left to place everything in our apartment.
I have to say, it was an interesting morning out, and though I am not affiliated to any real belief system, this did fulfil one requirement I have for these things, be it, Shintoist, Christian, Muslim, or whatever, in that it’s a supportive rite, which people genuinely believe helps them and makes them happy. Certainly can’t say fairer than that.