Denden Daiko: Kimono Accessory for Newborn's First Visit to Shrine
What is this?
The above picture is of a Denden Daiko, made by my sister Fumi in Japan. In recent years, here at yokodana.com we have been making these traditional items and offering them when we do in-person venues (until COVID that is :) ). Perhaps you've seen them: a small stick holding two miniature drums, each with heads on two sides. There are little beads or balls attached by a string that are meant to strike the drum by spinning the stick around.
There are of course larger working versions of denden daiko, but this one is symbolic. But you may wonder why is this on a blog about Japanese vintage kimonos? Please allow me to explain....
It is a long-standing tradition in Japan that soon after a baby is born they are taken to the local Shrine (Shinto). The child is wrapped in a special garment and swaddling, and -- at least in the old days when I was growing up -- a denden daiko was sewn to the baby's kimono and the infant was presented by parents for prayers at the Shrine.
But this simple accessory has deeper meaning for traditional Japanese people (not sure about younger Japanese these days). The symbolism has to do with the two-headed drums. In the social psychology of traditional Japanese culture there is a concept called 'omote-to-ura', 'outside and inside'. While these terms do not translate easily, Omote means, the outside (say the front of one's house), what one shows to society. Ura means the self one keeps deep within the house, rarely revealed to anyone.
So, the two-headed drum connotes the 'omote-ura', but with the implied meaning that the parents' prayer is their hopes that their child will need to have neither omote nor ura as they grow up, but will be pure and genuine to him/her self, with no need for two different "faces" in life.
I share this because so often customers ask me for explanations of the cultural background or history of things we sell. I thought that this item and its use exemplifies how traditional Japanese culture has so many customs, rituals and objects which give meaning to the Japanese themselves. To non-Japanese, so much of it may seem mysterious or even intriguing, making them curious about what it is all about.
So next time you see one of the denden daiko, please keep in mind this custom of presenting a newborn baby at a shrine with a denden daiko attached to the baby's kimono -- it is much more than just a trinket or knick-knack.