Up against the hills that become the mountains that separate the densely populated lowlands of Kansai from the more rural north is Nakayama temple. It's a big complex of a temple with many different buildings, towers and places of worship with an escalator and an elevator to help you access it all. Two stations both have the name "Nakayamadera" on the JR and Hankyu lines. Special pay parking lots advertise their proximity to the temple. This is a place many people want to go to. Nakayama is not like many of the temples I've been to, this one has bright paint adorning every building. This is a rich temple, and it should be. You see, before a good percentage of the babies that are born here in Kansai--and throughout the rest of Japan I assume--their parents come to pray and buy a haraobi [腹帯].
Sold for $200 or $70--we got the latter--the haraobi comes in a set of goods and prayers to ensure the healthy birth of your child. A haraobi is a long piece of white fabric with some hand written Japanese calligraphy on it. These are made by the monks in the temple. A pregnant woman wraps her belly in the fabric to bless the child, but also because it lessens the stress on her lower back and stomach. Along with the haraobi the set includes a special candle and some charms to put in your house or carry with you. We got the cheaper set, I'm not sure what the $200 set includes.
When you buy the haraobi you have to fill out a card with your name, address, and age in a special format that means you gain a few years. The card is used by the monks to pray for you and your child. After that is done, in about 2 weeks, you get a letter in the mail from the temple.
The haraobi is also a bit fun. It's like a fortune cookie in a way. When you open it up at the bottom of the calligraphy is written either the kanji for boy 男 or girl 女. The legend says that your child will be the opposite of what's written. As you can see--we got 男.
Going to Nakayama temple to buy a $70 dollar piece of fabric and some trinkets might seem pointless to some, but it was worth it. Here in Kansai it's a part of having a child for countless families. I'm glad we did it and we're looking forward to having a healthy girl... otherwise I'm going to try to get my $70 dollars back.
View 中山寺 Nakayamadera in a larger map