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Parents are sending ‘rice babies’ to long-distance relatives to celebrate their newborns during the pandemic

By PINKY S. ICAMEN Published Aug 16, 2021 9:44 pm

In Japan, parents of new bundles of joy are sharing the happiness with their relatives by sending them a cuddly “rice baby”—a bag of rice shaped like a swaddled infant, printed with their newborn’s photo and name.

This custom called dakigokochi has been around in Japan for years but during the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for these rice babies has grown as they have become a solution for parents to share the momentous occasion with their families.

Rice babies match the weight of the actual newborn and their packaging is printed with the baby's name, photo and the parents' message to their relatives. Photo from yosimiya.com

Each rice bag contains grains of rice that matches the newborn’s weight. The swaddled bundle serves as a sort of  “proxy” for the baby, which recipients can cuddle in the meantime until it is safe to physically give hugs again.

The price of these rice babies depends on their weight. A 3.5 kilogram pack is worth 3,500 yen or about P1,600. They come in simple wrapped style but parents may also choose more ornate options to wrap the rice babies.

It was in 2008 in the southern Japanese city of Kita-Kyushu, where this custom was started by a man who thought of sending bags of rice with a photo of his newborn son to his relatives who lived far away and could not visit the baby.

“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,” said Naruo Ono, owner of Kome no Zoto Yoshimiya rice shop, in an interview with The Guardian.

More ornate wrapping options are available for these rice babies. Photo from yosimiya.com

According to Ono, someone saw one of the rice bags with the photo of his son on it and told him how sweet and interesting that gesture was. He then started accepting orders, and eventually got orders from all over the country.

Ono also has wedding-themed rice bags that the bride and groom can give to their parents, with bags printed with the couple’s photos when they were babies. This way, the newlyweds can show their appreciation to their parents for giving birth to them, Ono told The Guardian.

So what happens when the relatives have had enough of cuddling these kawaii rice babies? Well, they could cook and eat the rice, of course.

But with the meticulously and tightly wrapped rice babies, Ono previously said there is a dilemma relatives may face should they choose to consume the contents of the bag—“People say they have a hard time opening them and eating the rice.”

Banner and thumbnail photos from yosimiya.com