Infant Care in Taira, Okinawa | 1950-60’s

In 1966, Thomas and Hatsumi Maretzki published an ethnography of the Okinawan village of Taira, published as part of a series called Six Cultures: Studies of Child Rearing.

The locals believed that babies are a gift from the god(s) and that they are god-like because of their apparent senselessness. “Because children are godlike in nature, they do not know any better; because they do not know any better they are godlike in nature.” Infants and young children are considered helpless, even pitiable “incapable of knowing, understanding or learning” until around six years of age. There is a strongly held view that treating this helpless, senseless creature with affection and indulgence will create a happy, healthy adult.

About Okinawa and Taira in the 1960s

Okinawa’s traditional primary economic activities were agriculture and fishing. However, at the time of the authors’ residence in Okinawa, it was under an indefinite American administration following WWII which was allowing residents to gain employment with the U.S. military and to be trained for skilled positions. The American presence influenced other aspects of culture, including housing and higher standards of living through new building, trade, and public health measures. The village of Tiara, however, was relatively unaffected by the changes in the lowlands due to its mountainous terrain.

Map of Taira in Six Cultures


Okinawans have a distinct language from Japanese, with many dialects around the island. All Okinawans at the time of the research were bilingual, they spoke Okinawan as a primary language and Japanese as a secondary language. However, Japanese had been the official language of the island for sixty years and it was the language taught in the public schools. The children use Japanese terms for family members, except for their grandmothers, for them they used the Okinawan terms. The high priestess of Okinawa, whose seat is in Taira, conducted rituals exclusively in Okinawan. The locals reverted to Okinawan around the Maretzkis when they didn’t want to be understood.


The Maretzkis’ wrote that the Okinawans seem quiet and restrained, and that they considered the expressiveness of Americans childish. However, they added that the Okinawan women, once comfortable, were quite talkative and laughed a lot; the men less so, unless they were drunk. And as a whole, the locals were very placid about the threat of natural disasters, like the frequent violent storms.

The people of Tiara were described as “short, stocky build, with heavy bones. Their hair growth is strong, their skin dark”. At the time of the research, the Okinawan ideal for physical beauty was to have lighter skin, to be tall and slender with a “prominent curved nasal ridge”, like the people from Shuri (the former capital of Okinawa) who traced their lineage to ancient noble families. There was a strong desire to link one’s ancestry to ancient nobility which made the work of piecing together local history difficult since the written records were destroyed during WWII.

Archival images by “Blackie the Photographer” of Okinawan life in the 1950s


Even though Taira is located in the subtropical region, they do experience seasons. Temperatures can range from 3° (38°F) in January to 35° (96°F) in August, (today the average in January is 15°-20° (59-68°F) while summers remain similar). In midsummer, the humidity can reach into the 90% range, making the heat unbearable, for example, a 32° (89.6°) day with 90% humidity has a heat index of 49° (120°F). So, understandably, people tend to take naps during the worse of the afternoon heat. And about that placidity towards severe storms: typhoons can occur at any time of the year.


The homes are built elevated off the ground by 50-60 cm (20-24″) and the crawl space is used for storage of food or firewood. There will be a thatch or tile roof (the tile roof is more expensive and more common in larger homes), and roofs overhang the interior to form a little porch. Doors are sliding panels, including exterior doors that allow entire sides of the house to be opened up. The floors are often just planks of wood that are not nailed down. In fact, no nails are used in the construction of traditional homes, it’s all mortise and tenon joints. Most homes at the time had an open fire place, the smoke filtered through the thatched roof, though efforts were being made by the local government to get brick stoves in people’s homes due to health concerns of smoke inhalation. Lighting was provided by kerosene lamps, water was stored in large jars outside the house.

People take their shoes off before entering a home. The living rooms double as the bedroom(s) and there is a rear room used as another bedroom or for sick people or postpartum mothers. The kitchen and dining area are raised, so that people have to take a step up to reach them and everyone sits on the floor to eat. There is an ancestral shrine somewhere in every home, perhaps on a small shelf or even in a small room, whenever it is small children are prevented from getting access to it. Homes have a courtyard where a lot of activities take place, such as washing dishes or preparing food. It’s also where animals live and the garden is kept. Food scraps get fed to pigs and the rest is thrown over the sea wall to collect on the beach.

Two styles of house plans for Taira in “Six Cultures”


Every married couple is on trial until the wife produces a child. Infertility can mean that the marriage can be annulled (by the husband or the in-laws), so most couples try to become pregnant within the first year of marriage. Male babies are more highly prized as they are considered heirs and there is a strongly held belief in Taira that women determine the sex of the baby. Therefore, a woman who only produces female babies may face an annulment as if she were infertile or her husband may choose to take a second wife. But daughters are not wholly unwelcome, mothers say they appreciate daughters because they become helpers. Twins are disliked in Taira due to the hardship it places on the mother, the locals say that it’s very difficult to nurse two babies on their meagre diet.

“A few of the more outspoken mothers complain bitterly against the old people who expect them to continue bearing children until three male heirs are born”

pg 456

Yet, even with the pressure to become pregnant, pregnancy is met with ambivalence and consideration of the financial difficulties of raising children. Birth control was looked down on by older generations but young mothers were passing around Japanese magazines with information on contraceptives. Abortion was legal in Taira with a doctor’s consent but the informants claimed that it wasn’t practiced there. The authors noted that while there were some locals with mental disabilities, there weren’t people with physical disabilities or birth defects.

Women consider craving particular foods as the tell-tale sign that they are pregnant, and sometimes husbands will go out of their way to satisfy their cravings with expensive or imported foods. Morning sickness isn’t usual and there are no taboo foods during pregnancy (or breastfeeding). With that said, women are warned to avoid spicy foods and there is a lot of advice given from locals about what a pregnant woman should eat to make her pregnancy healthier or to produce a lot of milk.

Pregnant women rarely miss work (in the fields, in the mountains) throughout their pregnancy, and they will have a sash wound around their abdomen by a midwife or elderly woman as a way of keeping the baby in position. No doubt it helped take some pressure off the lower back too. Yet the older generation often criticizes the young for how they pamper themselves, compared to how tough and resilient their generation was. For example, a pregnant woman dealing with kidney problems during her pregnancy was told by her doctor to restrict activities but the old people effectively eye-rolled and said,

“Work, good, hard physical labor is what we did and we never had any difficulties. Young people pamper themselves.”

They also brag about the “old days” when women would return from the mountains or fields with a newborn in tow.

“Women paid little heed to their condition, did hard work, and had their babies without a whimper.”

There are some superstitions, for example, a pregnant woman who is frightened may have the event imprinted on her fetus, an idea that also existed in Western culture from antiquity until at least the 19th century. In Taira, an informant said,

“Do you recall the one who was born with a great patch of hair on its arms? Its mother was frightened by a great big cat while she was carrying that child”.


As the birth draws near, women try to schedule work that is closer to the house so that when the time comes they can withdraw into the separate sleeping room near the kitchen. Once labor starts, a medical practitioner or a midwife (the authors noted that there was no midwife in Taira at the time of their research) will be called to assist with the birth. For first-time births, the husband is usually with his wife as she gives birth but during subsequent births, he waits with the other women in the living room.

In the past, women gave birth in a supported seated position but at the time of the study, they had begun lying down to give birth (that American influence). It is rare for a woman to cry out during birth, soft crying is permissible but shouting or being loud at all would draw contempt from those within earshot. Often, other children in the home aren’t even awoken by the sounds of labor and birth. The authors recalled one nasty comment about a loudly laboring woman,

“If you had worked hard, the baby would not be so big, then labor would not be difficult”.


Right after birth, a newborn is bathed in tepid water then bundled in a diaper and kimonos, and then placed next to the mother under a blanket. The afterbirth is wrapped in straw and stored under the kitchen floorboards until the tide is outgoing.

“At the first hour of the outgoing tide, old women — the grandmother of the baby, relatives, and neighbors– wrap the afterbirth in rice straw and bury it in a specified place outdoors behind the hearth. The purpose of the ceremony is to ensure that the child will be happy and sociable. To the accompaniment of laughing, loud clanging of pots and covers, and calling to each other, the women circle the house. When the burial is completed, they chant loudly, ‘May this baby always laugh and be pleasant.’ A stone is then placed over the burial mound so that the infant will not be frightened in his sleep, an emotion which is inferred from the jerking of a young infant while asleep.”

In the front room of the house, tea is served and the attending women discuss the birth and explain to the former youngest sibling that they are a big brother or sister now, showering the child with affection.

In the past (prior to the 1950s) the mother and child would be kept in the birthing room in the dark for seven days while an open fire was kept up near the mother. At the time of the ethnography, (in the 1950s) the seclusion only lasted four days, and was ended by the yukajiru ceremony in which close relatives gather to ask for good health for the child and make food offerings to their ancestors. It is after this that the name of the new baby is chosen.

In the past, an old woman would preside over “rice oracles” to ensure the name had the right combination of Japanese writing characters for a well-rounded personality. But at this time, the family elders and the local teachers are consulted. Prior to Japanese influence, a temporary name was given during the early years of a baby’s life to fool spirits.

On the sixth day after birth, the mother is allowed to take a bath while the room is cleaned and aired out. Then it’s time for the mansang celebrations: the mother’s parents are invited, especially for the first grandchild, along with friends and relatives throughout the village. A female elder or the priestess will pray behind a tray of rice, rice wine, and incense to ensure that the child will sleep peacefully and not cry at night. Thanks are given to the ancestors and nature deities for the health of the mother and baby. The father of the baby dances and then writes the baby’s name and birth date on a sheet of paper which is hung on the wall while a song is sung:

“Coming from the darkness to light,
This baby was received as a treasure
And the mother is being celebrated.”

After the mansang celebrations, the baby may be taken outside, and at the end of the month the baby can be taken to its maternal grandparents’ village for its “first walk” which is a ceremonial walk to the ancestral shrine of the mother.

Mothers get a brief break from their normal responsibilities after childbirth but it creates an economic hardship for the family. Neighbours, friends, and relatives visit and it is customary for the birth family to provide tea and refreshments. The mother’s physical labor is necessary for the economic stability of the family. So it’s not long after the birth (one month or so) before she resumes her former routines.

Babies’ heads are examined to see if they have two cowlicks as this indicates that the child will be naughty.

“One 4-year-old cuddled and hugged his newborn sister after searching her head. ‘You have two cowlicks just like me! You and I are naughty,’ he whispered to her. Turning to the adults in the room, he snapped his small bright eyes and grinned impishly as he reported his discovery joyfully.”

More archival footage of Okinawa at the time of the Maretzkis’ ethnography


There is a superstition that if a baby is allowed to cry during their first four months, they will develop a habit of crying. Therefore, non-crying cues are quickly addressed, and any crying that does occur is immediately greeted with the breast. Of course, the grandparents are always convinced that “immediate” isn’t fast enough.

“The immediate response of adult and child caretakers to an infant’s cry is to take him to his mother, who promptly nurses him. The breast is thrust into his mouth whether he is hungry or not.”

Some of the younger mothers have heard that letting the baby cry is good for them but they don’t get an opportunity to test it out because someone will always go to a crying baby to soothe it. The older generations complain about these new ideas, chastising the neglectful mothers as pitiful. If the mother fails to address the crying with the breast, the baby’s father or older siblings will join in chastising the mother.

This focus on not letting the baby cry had nothing to do with making life easier or more pleasant for the baby, but rather just avoiding the noise of crying. Crying is so disliked in Okinawan culture that it could cause problems within families. The situation can become tense during weaning when the mother is scolded for letting the baby cry and for continuing to nurse them.

The authors noted that in one instance a child was yelled at by their mother and smacked on the back. The child cried until the grandmother appeared, the child immediately ran to her, pointed at their mother as if tattling, and then the grandmother came over shoved the kid into the mother’s lap then slapped the mother on the back, scolding her for not responding to the kid’s cry faster.

In another story, the mothers were sitting together chatting while their children played. A child got their head stuck in a fence and was crying- visible and within earshot of the mothers- but because the younger children are the responsibility of the older siblings, it wasn’t something the mother thought to involve herself in. Again one of the grandmothers appeared to stop the crying but instead of dealing with the child herself, she went to the mother and shouted at her to take care of her child.

Grandmother tends baby in a hammock, Okinawa, by Bert Mosher, 1950s.


Right after birth, once placed next to its mother, the baby is given a gauze nipple dipped in tea and sugar to suck, the only food for up to two days while the mother’s milk comes in. And once the milk is established, the mother will nurse her baby lying down during her brief confinement.

There are “hard foods” which are believed to stop the flow of milk, such as octopus, whale meat, and certain kinds of fish. To stimulate milk production, papaya boiled with flour and noodles is eaten. Some mothers produce too much milk and in such cases, they will nurse the baby of another mother who is having difficulties breastfeeding, or they will breastfeed for mothers who work far from the village and can’t return frequently enough to feed their baby immediately.

During the first few months back to work, mothers will do jobs nearer the village while the baby is still feeding frequently, slowly going further afield as the feeding intervals get longer. Modern western babywearers might wonder why the mothers don’t just strap the babies on and take them to work for easier feeding, but it is considered too much strain on the mother to have to carry the baby while doing heavy labor in the fields. It is considered safer (though still a burden) for the mother to walk back to the village to feed their babies, then return to work. Having access to safe formula feeding would have been an economic boon for these busy mothers. One mother confided to the authors,

“How can I make money, feed and clothe the children when I have to rush back from the mountains to nurse this baby.”

There is no preferred posture for breastfeeding, women usually sit, but often stand or squat, holding the baby “loosely” and are themselves relaxed. They maintain conversation with other people, or with their nursing baby if other adults aren’t around. Women breastfeed where ever they are, whether at a village meeting or at home. The authors described breastfeeding in Taira as leisurely. The mothers don’t worry about taking the breast out of the baby’s mouth, letting them drink until they fall asleep.

From Six Cultures

The breast isn’t just for nutrition, as mentioned in the crying section, newborn babies who cry are silenced with a boob whether they are hungry or not. As they grew older the breast is also used to soothe babies when they are ill, fussy, or in pain, for example, after inoculations. During the workday, when older siblings are at school and the mother is out working, the grandmother has responsibility for the baby. If the baby starts crying and the mother isn’t going to be back soon, the grandmother may offer her own breast to the baby for soothing, called “dry nursing”.


The first phase of weaning begins at around six months of age when the baby has the area around his belly button moxa-cauterized (scarred) to magically protect the baby from digestive issues.

“Nine little brown dots in three rows of three attest to the practice of burning a special kind of grass on the skin in this area to protect the infant from various digestive complaints.”

The procedure is painful but marks the start of the baby’s introduction to solid foods such as rice water, later mashed sweet potato or fish, which are simply taken from the mother’s own meals and put into the baby’s mouth while he sits on her lap during mealtimes.

Breastfeeding doesn’t completely stop until the mother is around three months pregnant with the next baby, which means that many Taira babies are being breastfed well past age two and sometimes three years of age. When the mother has decided it’s time to wean there is usually a month when the breast will be given if the baby keeps complaining or crying. But at some point the whole family gets serious, for the first time in their lives, babies experience some tough love:

“Derisive comments are directed against him, and, finally, at the end of the month drastic steps are taken.”

Among these drastic steps include putting the baby to sleep with a different person, such as a sibling or grandmother, father, or aunt. Using black paper patches (which are used for pain) on the mother’s breasts to make it seem that she is injured and can’t breastfeed. If the kid still tries to breastfeed, the mother winces and pretends to be in agony which is apparently very effective. Red pepper or bitter medicine is rubbed on the breast so any attempt to suckle is met with a burning or nasty taste for the child. Shaming is frequently used against both mother and child, telling the mother to hide the breast and the child to hide their milk drinking ways.

Britney Spears turning towards camera with shocked confused expression
My face while typing the following quote.

“On one occasion an old man approached a mother who was nursing her 1-year-old. Immediately the mother pushed the child’s head down to acknowledge the elder’s presence. The old man, on the other hand, pulled the breast, taking the nipple from the child’s mouth. ‘A big baby! You should not be drinking your mother’s milk!’ he scolded in a growling voice. As the little girl started to scream and cry, he laughed and, squeezing the breast, squirted milk into her face. The mother laughed with him, then mocked an attack on the old man to pacify the crying child.”

One mother described using fear to help along weaning: while her child was throwing a tantrum about being refused the breast, she made a big racket with pots and pans in the kitchen. She pretended to be just as shocked as the baby, saying, “Look now! There! It’s a big rat coming for your mother’s breast, let’s hide it, quick!” then quickly buttoned up her blouse and held her kid in her arms, while he protectively held her breasts while watching out for rats.

Throughout the weaning process, the child never resorts to thumb-sucking or pacifiers. With regard to actual nutrition, the weaning child is well-provisioned, having had supplemental breastmilk with solid foods since around six and half months of age. When he is around one year old, the baby is given their own spoon to feed themselves with, and if the family can afford it they will invest in small bowls and chopsticks too. During meals, the baby sits on mother’s or grandmother’s lap and eats from their meals. The mess of a baby self-feeding is generally ignored, only banging on the table is stopped.

The biggest change for the baby during weaning is the gradual withdrawal of the indulgence he received as a younger baby from his family. The introduction of a new baby in the house effectively ends his own time in the spotlight; no longer nursed or carried, he stops being the baby and starts being a big sibling.


Because parents work until nightfall, many do not get home for dinner until late, in the summer until 8 p.m. The family go to bed together and at around 11 p.m. mosquito nets are hung in sleeping areas and comforters spread out, though many family members do not actually go to sleep until midnight.

“There are no uniform sleeping arrangements. The larger the family, the more corners of the front rooms and rear room are occupied. Since the number of comforters is limited in most families, two or three members of the family share one. Father and mother do not always sleep together, and, even if they do, an infant may sleep between them. When there are several children, another child may sleep next to the father, so that in one row there may be mother, a baby, father, and an older child. One or two children usually sleep with the grandmother in another corner.” 385


Beginning one month after birth, a baby is kept in constant contact with its caregiver’s body and this continues until the child is around two years old, or whenever the mother becomes pregnant again.

“A child is strapped onto someone’s back from the time he wakes up in the morning to the time he is put to bed at night.”(Maretzki, 107).

Grandmother carries grandbaby. Photo by Bert Mosher, 1950’s, Okinawa

Once the baby is three to four months old, the mother returns to work in the mountain fields. In the morning, before leaving, the mother helps strap the baby to the grandmother’s back using an obi-style strap. The grandmother then wanders around the village, socializing and exercising, between returns trips of the mother to feed the baby.

There is little concern about supporting the infant’s head or neck:

“As she walks the infant’s head bobs up and down, forward and back precariously, but [the baby] continues to sleep undisturbed” (ibid, 98).

From Six Cultures

It can be shocking for modern western babywearers to see, in fact, some westerners (like Pope Francis) have erroneously believed that a sleeping infant in that position must be dead. However, western ideas about infant necks are just that, ideas. In fact, it’s the idea that infants’ necks are fragile that leads to danger which then reinforces the idea. Westerners support infant heads so well that they cannot move, so when an infant ends up in a position that restricts their airway the baby is unlikely to change position or be jostled into another one, leading to positional asphyxiation. But in cultures without this belief, babies’ heads are allowed to flop around, with every movement or jostle they end up in a different position, their breathing reflex is constantly triggered by stimuli and their airway is never constricted very long, if at all. And considering the generations upon generations of healthy, happy people whose infant carriers failed to support their heads, it’s no wonder it’s a non-issue. But to be clear: as a westerner myself, I wouldn’t be comfortable handling a tiny baby without supporting their head.

Once older siblings return from school, the baby is then strapped onto one of their backs so that the grandmother can get around to her work (usually in the garden) without the burden of the baby. The older sibling(s) are then allowed to be at leisure, but should they ignore the cries of their sibling, their peers will harshly criticise them for it. They are prohibited from taking the baby off their back, unless by their mother. When a sibling first starts carrying a newborn around, their friends will beg to carry the baby for a while, which is usually met with a no. Once the baby has put on weight and sleeps less, older siblings will sometimes hide from their mothers so they can’t have the baby strapped on (clearly the act of a double cowlick child).

There is no “crawling” phase because no one (except the wealthy fisherman’s wives with nothing else to do) has time to supervise a crawling baby, nor do they want the baby to get filthy on the ground. Though they are not given floor time or allowed to practice crawling, their babies instinctively know how to as evidenced by the horror stories from mothers having to deal with a baby that was set down and allowed to crawl. No one “baby proofs” their homes, it isn’t even a consideration. Everyone prefers that baby stay safely stowed on someone’s back for the first couple of years of life and even the babies seem to prefer being carried, they do not rebel against the carrier.

By the time the child is one year old, it has seen the entire village and met (and been met by) everyone. They are part of the “economic and social-ceremonial life” of their community. But every baby’s time in the carrier is limited: they are weaned as soon as their mother is pregnant again, and within six months of weaning they are suddenly no longer carried. In fact, they are shamed by their mothers and siblings for asking to be carried.

This all seems fairly ideal, everyone gets time to do their work, and have leisure, and the baby is always in the thick of it. But when there is no grandmother or older siblings the situation can be difficult. In such cases, what to do with the newborn when the mother needs to get back to work to support the family?

“One such mother complained that she could not do anything efficiently with a baby on her back. She was able to go to the fields to harvest potatoes but had to leave the laden basket until the afternoon to carry it home, for at that time the neighbor’s child returned from school to look after the baby.”

And even then, she had to pay the neighbor’s child for their babysitting services.

The authors noted that during their stay in Taira, only girl babies were born, but it was hinted to them that when a male baby is born the fathers become more invested in helping their wives, encouraging them to stay home longer after the birth, and may even carry the baby themselves which is a big deal in their culture because carrying is considered the work of women and children.


“When the infant is anywhere from 22 days to 10 months old, the mothers start trying to anticipate urination before the baby wets his diapers. Each mother trains herself to her child’s particular cues, squirming, peculiar facial expressions, and so on, or keeps a kind of mental time check. Holding the infant in a semisitting position out over the edge of the porch, and supporting him under his knees with her hands and at his back with her chest, she coaxes gently, repeating ‘shi-shi’ until he urinates onto the ground outside. If the mother is successful in her efforts, she hugs, kisses, and praises the infant. ”

For the mothers interviewed, this infant potty training was less about the toilet training itself and more about avoiding loads of diapers to clean or buy. After all, they do not believe that children can be taught anything at such a young age. But this doesn’t stop mothers from bragging about how well they’ve trained themselves, one mother bragged that she never had to wash a wet diaper, another that she only had to buy diapers for her first baby.

Once a mother returns to work, the baby is returned to diapers, which they wear until around one year of age. The older siblings who care for the baby are not expected to change because they are not allowed to take the baby off their back. Babies frequently wet their diaper and the sibling carrying them, but there was nothing to do about it.

During the winter, babies are so well bundled to prevent the baby from catching a cold that it’s difficult to change wet diapers which results in “severe urine burns” the authors said that persistent diaper rashes were more common than colds among young babies.

After the baby turns one, he is put into a long shirt and split-crotch pants and expected to either toilet train themselves or to be taught by older siblings. Now, when these untrained babies, in their split crotch pants, are being worn by their older siblings the only way for them to “go” is in the carrier, or rather, from the carrier. This is where the strap carry plus split pants can work well if the wind is in their favor.

“H. (an 8-year-old-girl) carrying her baby sister on the back is playing on the beach. She straightens up suddenly with a wry expression on her face. ‘She urinated, wet,’ she exclaims, standing up and spreading her dress at the back which is completely soaked. The baby is bare-bottomed and crowing happily at the older children playing around her. The older sister waves her dress briefly in the wind, then squats to continue to play. When asked if she was not going home to change, she exclaims that she would dry soon enough, and, as for the baby, she was dry. The day is warm and windy and the dress dries off rapidly,” (ibid., 104).

Family Members

It may seem as though fathers are not involved in their child’s life and for the most part this is accurate. The authors noted that in exceptional cases they heard of fathers carrying newborn sons as a kind of celebration of having an heir born, but it was the extreme rarity of a father carrying or caring for any of the children that made it noteworthy. Caring for children is primarily the job of women and children, ideally, grandmothers and siblings of the baby as the mother works outside of the home within a month or so after the birth.

Older siblings are expected to take part in household responsibilities and when they are not in school they are responsible for their younger siblings, the youngest sibling strapped to the back of an older sibling. Older siblings have a responsibility to quiet the baby’s cries, to potty train them, and make sure they stay out of trouble. Once they are a few weeks old, babies spend the majority of their time with their siblings or grandmother, only spending time with their mother during feedings (if she is able to feed) or meals, and at night when they sleep next to each other– and that is only until weaning, then the baby is moved to sleep with another family member. The Attachment Parenting crowd who hold Okinawa up as an example of how it should be done rarely seem to note the economic realities of working mothers.

Grandmothers tend to be harsh with respect to their daughters-in-law, chastising them for literally everything: they make too much noise during childbirth, they haven’t produced more sons, they haven’t responded fast enough to the baby’s cry. They are also critical of older grandchildren: they don’t take good enough care of the latest baby, don’t respond to crying fast enough, or that they get home late from school so are late to take the baby off her hands (or back, really). The general tone, then as now, is that the younger generation is too lazy, and too pampered when compared to their own generation.

The Maretzkis’ were able to capture a glimpse at a rural Okinawan culture at a time of change, documenting both how things were for older generations and how things were in the 1950s and 60s. By the time of their research on Taira, the culture in the low lands of Okinawa was already becoming quickly westernized due to the presence of the American military and the rebuilding work taking place after the war.

Today, Taira is unrecognizable from the small village described in Six Cultures. Through the preservation of their culture of child care, the world can learn how the families managed infant care with working parents and limited resources; their use of infant carriers, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, and infant potty training had nothing to do with a trendy parenting ideology, rather it had everything to do with pragmatism.

Though hard-working mothers of Taira couldn’t spend much time with them, their babies were well-cared for by many members of their families. Babies were participants in their community from their earliest weeks: they were introduced to and engaged with the older generations while on their grandmother’s back during the day and accepted into the company of the other children from the backs of their older siblings in the afternoons.

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Thomas and Hatsumi Maretzki. 1963. “Taira: An Okinawan Village.” Six Cultures: Studies of Child Rearing. Edited by Beatrice B. Whiting. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Mosher-Reid Images:

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