Ubugami, the gods of childbirth used to play a pivotal role in Japanese folk belief. Birth, being both a time of great danger to both the mother and her newborn child as well as the beginning of life seems to demand religious and ritual safeguards. Yet at the same time the blood spilt during birth carries the taint of the kegare, of ritual impurity. This impurity prevented most of the gods known to Japanese Folk belief from attending childbirth. Only a special handful of gods could overcome the kegare and act as ubugami.
These ubugami are relevant to a wide variety of highly important questions that reach from the nature of the kegare and its connection to the discrimination of women to the concepts of divinity, the human soul and the afterlife.
This presentation aims to locate the ubugami within the complex series of rites and rituals related to pregnancy and childbirth in traditional Japanese folk belief, to describe the objects that represent them and the humans who interact with them, as well as to trace and explain the decline of ubugami belief and the modern practices that have replaced it.
Christian Göhlert is a PhD student at the University of Munich’s Japan Center. He is currently doing research for his doctoral thesis at Seijo University in Tokyo.