BlogTV: The Japanese Tooth Fairy

BlogTV is back on the air with another fascinating tale of ancient Japanese customs adapted to the modern era. Our video (5min30sec, Japanese only) from FujiTV may not be suitable for all viewers. Warning: you may not want to watch this video if you are squeamish about seeing adults stick their appendages into their tiny childrens’ orifices, causing them to howl in pain.

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When a Japanese child loses a tooth, they are taught an ancient custom, “ue no ha wa en no shita e, shita no ha wa yabe no ue e nageru.” Literally translated, this means “throw your upper teeth under the floor, your lower teeth over the roof.” The idea is that the upper teeth will grow downwards towards the tooth on the ground, and the lower teeth will grow up towards the roof, and all the teeth will grow strong. This saying has some interesting linguistic and cultural aspects, the character en is the same character used for the word “karma.” En no shita also appears in other idioms that indicate something inconspicuous or unnoticed.

But of course, modern Japanese families live in different conditions than the ancient times when this custom started, which is the inspiration for today’s video. A desperate mother writes to FujiTV, she lives in a modern highrise apartment and has no way to deposit these lost teeth in the customary places. What should she do?

That annoying woman from Mesamashi Terebi is here to interview typcial modern mothers with the same predicament. How do they handle their childrens’ lost teeth? One mother brings out a small wooden box lined with cotton containing the lost teeth, plus one unidentifiable lump that presumably was removed from her child’s body. I don’t even want to speculate where this lump came from. She opens the box and proudly displays the small trophies, laid out in a line. Another mother shows her arrangements, she keeps these small parts in the glove compartment right next to the Owner’s Manual. Another mother shows how she keeps the lost teeth up on top of the refrigerator, next to her kitchen altar. We see her child bow her head in prayer for strong teeth.

Obviously these improvised disposal methods leave much to be desired, and modern times call for modern customs. Two women display wood boxes designed just for storing teeth. One box is in the shape of a tooth with a little blue cap. Another box is labeled “first teeth box,’ which contains a tooth chart with one hole to deposit each tooth, next to a spot where you must carefully write the date each tooth was lost.

It would appear that all these small rituals are more for the benefit of the mothers than the children. So let us digress and look at the problem from the child’s perspective. We watch as one family sits at the dinner table, the little girl’s front tooth is gura gura, it’s loose and can wiggle around. Dad reaches over to prod her tooth, and she howls in pain, ya da yo! It is almost time to pull the tooth, and indeed, we watch as Mom pulls the the tooth right out of the socket. The little girl proudly displays her tooth to the camera, with a big gap-toothed grin.

But this family is determined to observe the proper traditions. We set forth in a car, headed for Grandma’s house way out in the country. Grandma gushes about what a great thing it is to have lost her first tooth, she is growing up so fast. All the assembled relatives pull the child’s mouth open to inspect the empty socket, and determine that this tooth must go en no shita. And of course, Grandma’s house has a little opening in the cinder block foundation where she can toss the tooth. Everyone gathers around as she declaims, “yoi ha ni narimasu you da!” and tosses it through the gap. Everyone claps their hands in joyous celebration, another precious Japanese custom has escaped extinction and has been passed down to the next generation.

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