Congratulations, you're the proud new grandfather of a bouncing baby ... bag of rice? That's the idea behind a product created by Kome no Zoto Yoshimiya, a rice company in Japan owned by Naruo Ono. Relatives who can't visit new parents due to the pandemic will instead receive a special gift from the growing family—a rice bag shaped like a baby swaddled in a blanket, filled with enough rice so it weighs exactly as much as the newborn does. A picture of the baby's face is adhered to the front for effect, so relatives can hug and cuddle with the bag of rice as if they had the infant in their arms. Other companies besides Ono's have also jumped on the baby rice bag bandwagon, with the typical price for a 7.7-pound bag coming in at around $32 (the cost fluctuates depending on how heavy the bag is). Ono's company also does baby rice bags for weddings: The bride and groom present them to their parents, with their own baby pictures plastered on the front as appreciation for giving birth to them.
Insider notes that "Dakigokochi," the practice of sending baby rice bags out to relatives, isn't new. In fact, even though they're now being put to good use during the pandemic, Ono created them back in 2007. "I first had the idea ... when my own son was born and I was thinking about what I could do for relatives who lived far away and couldn't come and see him," Ono tells the Guardian. The baby rice bag idea was born to share the "cuteness." A customer spotted one of the bags in Ono's shop, ready to be sent out to a family member, and loved the concept, and Ono thought there might be demand for this sort of thing. Soon, the rice store was sending the bags all across the country. Despite the popularity of the novelty gift, there is one conundrum: what to do after that novelty has worn off and the cuddling has ended. "People say they have a hard time opening them up and eating the rice," Ono told Reuters previously. (Read more Japan stories.)