Today I packed up my bags, said goodbye to Y and her family and then headed to the school. We hung out in Torigoe-sensei’s office for a while and then had lunch with some of the midwifery faculty. After lunch, two of the faculty, E and M, took us to the Kasuga Josanin. On our way to the birth center we stopped at a special shrine for midwives. Many women made their way to the shrine for special ceremonies after one month and again after 100 days of their child’s life. There was one area where women brought rocks with their baby’s name, weight and date of birth to leave at the shrine.
It was pretty quiet when we arrived at Kasuga Josanin, where we met the current director, Satoko. Satoko’s mother had founded the birth center back in 1965 and she built the center around the philosophy of work, nutrition and continuous care. This theme of physically preparing for labor has come up before and Satoko explained that she felt very inspired by Ina May’s philosophy of care at The Farm. In fact, Satoko was planning to close the birth center in order to open up her own farm, where women would come to do work, eat well and have their babies. Satoko is a very elegant woman, whose Japanese was very easy to understand. She spoke at length about the current lack of faith in women’s abilities, something she attributed to the relationship between modern women and their mothers. She explained that before WWII, everyone gave birth at home with a midwife and that after the war, birth was moved into the hospitals. She said that younger generations no longer believed that they could give birth in an out-of-hospital setting without interventions because none of their female relatives in living memory had done it. It made me think of Pam England’s “Seven Generations” idea – this concept that we continue to live with the effects of changes that happened seven generations ago, how it may take another seven generations to truly revolutionize and change our birth culture.
After our talk, we took watched a slide show of a birth that had taken place at the center, followed by a short tour. When we sat down for the slideshow, I prepared for either Pachelbel or Bach (no seriously, Google a birth slide show and find the one that doesn’t use some sort of classical music in the background. All right, all right, you may find one with the Dixie Chicks’ Lullaby), but was surprised (I even got the chills) to hear Deva Premal’s version of the Gayatri Mantra. This mantra holds special significance for me – I first learned it in my initial yoga teacher training as a way of praising and paying homage to the Great Mother. I then learned from a doula client and mentor that it is the mantra that women in South East Asia sing when children are being born. In my most recent teacher training, another layer was added – apparently the mantra is also used as an appeal to Ganesh to help remove the barriers that prevent us from recognizing our true Selves. I often play Deva’s version and sing along when I’m trying to clear my head and I was glad that the Gayatri had followed me to Japan in this unexpected way.
During the tour, we saw that the rooms were similar to what we had seen before – plenty of props and set up in a way that encouraged movement, family and bonding. As we made our way downstairs, we were able to meet Satoko’s mother, who may hold the honor of being the longest practicing midwife in Japan (60 years!). She reiterated her daughters words about good physical health and nutrition and counseled against active management of pushing. She reminded Lisa and me of our responsibility to women as midwives and encouraged us to help change our current birth culture.
We said our goodbyes and hopped back in the car. E and M took us to an izakaya in Fukuoka, where we feasted on a bunch of delicious fried foods (why is karaage so much better than American fried chicken?!). At some point, E asked if we wanted to try horse. Lisa and Allison seemed like they were about to be polite, so I clarified that she was talking about basashi, to which Lisa replied, “You eat raw horse?” I joked that where E was from (Sapporo), they ate bear, which successfully steered the conversation away from us having to try the delicacy. After dinner, E and M put us on a train to Torigoe-sensei’s house, where we happily sunk into bed.