SOKENDAI Review of Cultural and Social Studies


vol.19 (2023)

Stone-based Customs of Prayer to Avoid Childbirth:

With a Focus on Childbearing Customs in the Modern Era

SONG Dandan

Department of Japanese Studies,
School of Cultural and Social Studies,
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, SOKENDAI

Key words:

pregnancy/childbirth, birth control, childbirth customs, prayer for safe delivery, stone beliefs, spirituality, modernity

The purpose of this paper is to examine the characteristics of the stones used in childbearing practices for purposes other than safe childbirth, such as abortion, infanticide, and contraception and the functions and magical properties of stones and to clarify folk beliefs entrusted to stones.

There are earlier reports of folklore studies on the custom of using stones to pray for fertility and easy childbirth, and studies on the subject have been accumulated. On the other hand, research has not been conducted extensively on stone-based customs related to birth control, such as contraception, abortion, and infanticide.

The author conducted studies on abortion and infanticide not only in folklore but also in early modern history and examined stone-based birth control, abortion, and infanticide customs in relation to stone and rock beliefs, which the author has been researching.

Based on the materials such as Nihon saniku shūzoku shiryō shūsei, Okayama kenka ninsin shusan ikuji siryo, and Aichi kenka ninsin shusan ikuji siryo, the methods and characteristics of abortion, infanticide, and contraception, as well as whether or not stones were used, were used as indices in the analysis. The conclusions are as follows.

First, it is clear that abortion and infanticide practices using stones were based more on the physical properties of stones as a tool, i.e., the weight and solidity, than on the magical properties of stones. Only a few specific methods of abortion involve use of stones. For example, jumping down from a high place holding a stone, or moving around while holding a stone. In the case of the custom of infanticide, the physical properties of stones were used to kill infants, especially by using a stone mortar, which is sometimes considered sacred.

In the custom of avoiding pregnancy, it was found that people prayed by throwing or sitting on stones based on their spiritual or divine properties. In doing so, it was found that they consciously performed the opposite act of daily prayer, such as turning backward or hiding not to be seen, in order to achieve the goal of contraception.

Abortion, contraception, and other forms of infanticide to prevent birth, such as using stones to kill the child or inserting a hozuki stalk (a branch) into the genitals, as described in Nihon saniku shūzoku shiryō shūsei, reveal the sexual practices and lives of women who were forced to use dangerous methods to perform abortions.

The author clarifies the compelling desires and realities of the women who performed birth control using or without stones, as well as the viewpoints of the people of the time who referred to stones to describe women who did not or could not give birth, calling them stone women (umazume).