Pregnancy in Canada & Japan – raised eyebrows and new traditions

Being pregnant is one of those wonderful mysteries that anyone can share. From strangers at the grocery store eying your big belly and smiling (or running away) to relatives pestering you to make more babies, it’s an experience that is very public.

During my pregnancy, my husband and I were living in Canada and my in-laws were in Japan. We shared the changes over the Internet. I was happy to follow the advice and requests coming from Japan and it was a lot of fun to be part of very old traditions from my husband’s family.

Two differences and one surprise came up over those nine months.

omamori from Japan

pregnancy charm (omamori) in front and a personalized good wishes stick (gomagi) in the back

#1 – When to reveal the news: the magic three-month marker

While we were living in Japan, a member of my Japanese family casually announced her pregnancy one afternoon. When I did the math for the due date, I was stunned that she was only a month or so pregnant.

The unbreakable rule for me was that no news was shared with anyone until three months had passed. This included family.

As I later discovered was normal in Japan, the instant we found out we were pregnant, my husband wanted to share our news far and wide.

This was absolutely not going to happen… not until those magical three months had come and gone!

While it doesn’t surprise me anymore when Japanese friends tell us their pregnancy news before the three-month marker, I still feel odd hearing news that I find so private.

Umeda Sky Garden observatory, Osaka

Travelling pre-baby at Umeda Sky Garden, Osaka – little did we know what was in store for us the next year!

#2 – Out in public: pregnancy badges and belly hugging clothes

Feeling uncomfortable sharing pregnancy news with family and friends before the three-month mark was one thing. Advertising the news to strangers while going about your daily business felt on the edge of bizarre.

In Japan, women can wear a little badge on their clothing or handbag to show the world that they are pregnant. Wearing the badge, especially before physically showing signs of pregnancy, would hopefully allow strangers to demonstrate respectful behavior. This could include giving up a seat for you on the train, allowing you to go first through a doorway or offering assistance with carrying packages. (And it looks like the London Tube does the same thing!)

While I have seen this badge on real women in Japan, it’s not something I could ever bring myself to do. That said, a particular practice I thought nothing of raised the eyebrows of my in-laws.

Pregnancy fashion in Japan generally dictates that you cover and camouflage your changing shape as much as possible. (If you’re going to wear a billowy shirt to cover your bump, why would you wear a pregnancy badge??)

My new (and very temporary) style of skinny jeans and form-fitting sweaters was a surprise to my in-laws. Why did I not cover up more? Why was I showing off my belly?

Namahage costume

This namahage outfit would be suitably modest pregnancy wear. And it comes with a mask!

Good question.

I don’t think there are many women that don’t have at least one insecurity about some part of their body.

For some women, the exciting part about being pregnant is seeing what will happen and embracing those changes. Feeling comfortable in your skin and in awe about growing a little human inside you can lead to being unafraid to show off new curves and taking risks with what you wear.

And truthfully, sometimes there isn’t much selection when it comes to style so you wear what’s available. If it’s skin hugging styles, then that’s what you get! For a taste of pregnancy fashion over the years, check out 100 years of maternity fashion.

#3 – A new tradition: day of the dog brings an easy delivery

A belief in Japan says that dogs generally have easy deliveries. Using special calendars, mothers can help daughters determine the best day to step up their chances of giving birth with some level of smoothness.

Once the special day is decided, two more things are needed. The first is a special pair of short pants that look like a longer version of boy shorts underwear.

The second requires a trip to the appropriate temple or shrine to pick up a unique strip of paper that holds a blessing.

On the chosen day in the fifth month of pregnancy, the mom-to-be pulls on those pink pants, slips the paper into the front by her belly and wears the paper and shorts for the day.

Japanese blessing

day of the dog easy birth blessing

My mother-in-law found the biggest pair of pale pink shorts she could and shipped them from Japan. At five months pregnant (and far from a typical Japanese woman’s shape and size), I barely squeezed into them before giving up. Instead, I slipped the paper into my underwear and wore it for a few hours.

Did it work? I like to think… yes! But it doesn’t matter. It was fun to be part of an old tradition and a great way to connect with my Japanese family.

Did you or someone you know follow any special traditions while pregnant? If you’re part of a mixed couple, did you run into any surprises with a baby on the way?

5 thoughts on “Pregnancy in Canada & Japan – raised eyebrows and new traditions

  1. Pingback: Sunday Round Up #9 | Laidig's Broadway

  2. Was most amused by the link to maternity fashions over the years. As always when blending cultures and traditions, it is nice to give a ‘nod’ to both sides and happy you were able to incorporate elements from Japan… even if the pink shorts didn’t really work!! 🙂

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