Almost three weeks after being born the umbilical cord stump fell off while I was changing our baby’s diaper. My wife put it in a small box the hospital gave us containing a piece of the umbilical cord from the birth. I couldn’t help but find this just a bit humorous. It’s just something that is unheard of in the States, as far as I know of at least.
Wikipedia has a good concise explanation about this custom in Japan.
Japanese hospitals typically place part of the umbilical cord that falls off in a traditional box specifically designed for this purpose. When the mother leaves the hospital, the umbilical cord is given to her. This Japanese custom is based upon the belief that the umbilical cord has a direct relationship to the health of the baby. Maltreating it, therefore, risks causing harm or disease in the child. In some Japanese households, a mother may show a child the umbilical cord on certain events like birthdays to recall the day the child was born. In other households, the umbilical cord is given to a child on the day he or she leaves home or gets married to symbolize separation.bAlso, a preserved umbilical cord is considered to be a cure for the child when he or she is sick. Parents would cut a small portion of the cord and feed it to the child. Additionally, the Japanese believe that the umbilical cord is a symbol of the child’s fate. So if one loses his or her umbilical cord, his/her spiritual fate is considered lost as well.
This is just common knowledge in Japan but is definitely something I had never heard of before marrying Kaori. One of her friends, who had delivered a baby one month before us, even had the blood inside the umbilical cord preserved so it could be used to treat blood cancer or other illnesses later in the child’s life should they arise. I don’t know the scientific validity to all of that but I guess there must be something to it.
My wife still has a piece of her umbilical cord from when she was born. The main character on the front of these boxes, 寿 (kotobuki) meaning longevity and congratulations, hasn’t changed in over thirty years though the calligraphy style has. That’s what makes them look so different from the original kanji.
The backside contains information of the baby’s birth though it isn’t really necessary to fill it out.
The way in which the umbilical cord is preserved has changed over the years. Some kind of powder used in the past verses a moisture absorbent pad today. My wife’s piece is also a little bit longer but maybe that’s just doctor preference.
I don’t think this custom of saving a piece of the umbilical cord is done so that it can be opened twenty years later to share warm and fuzzy feelings. I opened Kaori’s box with her mother and she didn’t exactly have an expression of awe how cute. It’s not like looking at baby pictures but it does have significant meaning nonetheless.
I’ll end with this. I took a picture of our baby’s umbilical cord an hour or so after she was born and another picture today. You can see the difference three weeks makes. I guess our daughter will one day see the difference eighteen years make.
I was talking with Kaori’s family while writing this and we found her younger siblings’ umbilical cords, so I thought why not include them too. They look almost exactly the same as our baby’s box except that they have the old style umbilical cord preservation using the powder.