Newborns visit relatives as cuddly rice bags

TOKYO Tue Jan 8, 2008 10:35am EST

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TOKYO (Reuters) - New-born babies in Japan who can't make it around to visit all their relatives can now send them proxies instead - cuddly bags of rice.

A small rice shop in Fukuoka, southern Japan, has been swamped with orders for "Dakigokochi" rice-filled bags shaped like a bundled baby and printed with the new-born's face and name.

Each rice bag is tailor-made to weigh as much as the new-born and shaped so the rice fills the bag up. Holding the round-edged bag would feel like holding a real baby.

"Other rice shops sell bags printed with baby photos, but they use regular bags. People say they aren't good for holding," said Naruo Ono, owner of the rice shop, Yoshimiya.

"Rice for small babies would be stuck at the bottom of the bag, and the baby's photo would be scrunched at the top."

It is customary in Japan to give people gifts or money on occasions such as births, and the recipient then responds with other gifts, often worth half the amount they received.

The rice bags have made perfect "half-return" gifts, Ono said, although relatives face a dilemma once they are done with the cuddling.

"People say they have a hard time opening them up and eating the rice," Ono said.

(Reporting by Chisa Fujioka)

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