Thursday, August 12, 2021
Parents in Japan are sending bags of rice that weigh the same as their newborn babies to relatives who are unable to visit them due to the pandemic.
The bags come in a wide range of designs, with some shaped like a baby wrapped in a blanket so that relatives can feel as though they are hugging the new arrival while looking at a picture of their face, which is attached to the front.
The amount of rice in the bag is matched to the newborn’s birth weight and the price increases in parallel with the size of the baby. Some firms charge one yen a gram, with a 3.5kg pack priced 3,500 yen (£22.90).
The rice babies give long-distance relatives a chance to experience what it would be like to hold the newborn child.
“I first had the idea about 14 years ago when my own son was born and I was thinking about what I could do for relatives who lived far away and couldn’t come and see him. So we decided to make bags of rice that were the same weight and shape as the baby, so relatives could hold them and feel the cuteness,” says Naruo Ono, the owner of Kome no Zoto Yoshimiya rice shop.
A customer saw one of the rice bags with the picture of their son on it at the company’s shop – in Kitakyushu city, near Fukuoka – and remarked on how sweet and interesting it was. Ono thought there could be a market for them and started producing the bags for customers, gradually getting orders from all over Japan.
Ono has expanded the product range to include wedding-themed celebration rice bags.
“In the case of the wedding celebration goods, the bride and groom give them to the respective parents with their pictures on them from when they were babies as a way of showing appreciation for giving birth to them,” Ono said.
The wedding rice bags have ended up becoming even more popular than the birth ones.
“During the pandemic, the demand for them has really increased as people haven’t been able to travel to wedding ceremonies,” added Ono.
The growth in the wedding side of the business has helped offset the impact of Japan’s falling birthrate, though fewer people are getting hitched each year as well.
Japan’s population fell by more than 480,000 to 126.65 million last year. Strict travel restrictions cut the number of people moving to the country from overseas, exacerbating the drop caused by long-term demographic trends.
The number of newborns dropped to a record low of 843,321 in 2020, falling every year since nearly 1.25 million babies were born in 1989. Of Japan’s 47 prefectures, only Tokyo and its three surrounding regions, along with the southern island of Okinawa, reported a population increase last year.
Similarly, marriages fell to a postwar low of 525,490, down from a peak of more than 1 million in the early 1970s.