1 Jun 2015

Rearing Babies Piggyback

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis). Photo: HIH Princess Takamado
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis). Photo: HIH Princess Takamado
By HIH Princess Takamado

'Through the Lens', Fujingaho Magazine, June 2015

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Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado

English Translation: Asia Club, WBSJ Volunteer Group (TAKEUCHI Fumie & KASE Tomoko)

This time I’d like to show you some photos of chick rearing by Little Grebes, which have been breeding successfully on the pond of the Akasaka Detached Palace in recent years. Little Grebes are common water birds which are seen across the country, and they make floating nests by using waterweed leaves and stalks. Male Little Grebes are so-called excellent “ikumen” (fathers who play an active role in child rearing) in that they brood and rear their chicks together with their female partners.

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis). Photo: HIH Princess TakamadoWhen the parent birds leave their nest during the incubation period, they never forget to cover their eggs with some nesting materials, and seeing such a behavior makes us warm-hearted. A pair of Little Grebes tries to breed several times a year, which offers us a lot of chances to see their heartwarming chick rearing. However, I sometimes feel pity for their earnest efforts, because breeding many times means that the success rate of their egg laying and chick rearing at one time is quite low.

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The chicks begin to leave the nest a week after hatching and go along with their parents since they have already become able to swim by then. As you can see on the photos, Little Grebes are known for rearing their chicks piggyback. When the chicks are very young, the parent birds carry them piggyback and cover them gently with their wings to protect against their enemies or the loss of body heat.

Talking of rearing babies piggyback, I used to think a piggyback was peculiar to Japanese culture. I remember that when I came back to Japan from the U.S. as a 3rd year elementary school student, I saw a baby fixed on its mother’s back with a piggyback sling and I thought it an interesting custom. After then I lived in the U.K. and France, where I noticed a baby was carried in a baby buggy or in someone’s arms. Therefore I believed that a baby buggy was Western-style and a piggyback was pure Japanese-style, but later I’ve found a lot of cultures around the world have the piggyback custom.

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis). Photo: HIH Princess Takamado

In Greenland and the extremely cold region of northern Canada, they have a lady’s parka called amauti, which covers even a baby on the back completely. I was surprised to hear that a mother in amauti can move her baby from the back to the front to breast-feed without taking it off. On the other hand, in Africa, mothers fix their babies on the buttocks with a large cloth. They say that the babies calm down by being swayed as the mothers walk, but I wonder a bit if it is true. The African women and we Japanese are quite different in body shape, so this way of baby carrying makes Japanese mothers worry that the babies may slide down rather than calm down.

When my three daughters were small, front baby carriers became popular. Piggyback slings, however, have come to be valued again little by little recently, though mothers think a great deal of physical contact with their babies as ever. Using a piggyback sling has some advantages; this is, being fixed in a high position, the baby can look over a wide range in the same direction as its mother, besides, the mother’s eyes meet the baby’s on the same level when she looks back.

I feel happy about the revival of piggyback slings which have been designed more stylishly and usefully. Now that more and more women are playing an active role in our society, it may be interesting to see them use a piggyback sling at work as long as it doesn’t harm babies’ health. Will a day come when a piggyback sling becomes an important nursery item for active working women, casting off its out-of-date image of the Showa Period? I want to keep an eye on the evolution of piggyback slings, while observing the chick rearing by Little Grebes.

Read more Fujingaho articles by HIH Princess Takamado


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