It was my daughter’s birthday last Sunday. As we just came back from Japan and had no time to arrange the birthday party, her friends are coming to celebrate with us this coming weekend. Last weekend, however, we went to a beach and had a great day on her birthday. What are your memories of your birthdays? Were you allowed to eat only things you like? Did someone throw a big party for you?
Birthdays are a special day for everyone. In western countries, one’s birthday is considered to be the day he or she was born and is celebrated on the same date every year. Isn’t it rare to have a friend or a family member who has the same birthday as you? Can you image sharing the birthday with all of your friends and family? That’s how it used to be in Japan and some other Asian countries; everyone celebrated his or her birthday on the same day.
Until around 1950, Japanese people used a system called “kazoedoshi (数え年)” to count their age. In this system, when a baby is born, he or she is already one year old. This is because babies spend around 9 months in the mother’s womb and it is considered that they already “lived” a year before their actual birth. What makes this system more interesting is that everyone earns a year on New Years day instead of the day each person was actually born. In the old days, New Years day was the national birthday in Japan. After World War II, the western tradition of celebrating one’s birthday was introduced and became popular in Japan. Since then, “kazoedoshi” has been used in a limited circumstance such as “shichigosan (七五三)”, “yakudoshi (厄年)” and “toshiiwai (年祝い)”. These are traditional events relating to one’s age. We celebrate children’s healthy growth by their ages of three, five and seven (shichigosan). We also have certain years that are said to bring us misfortune (yakudoshi), which differ between women and men. I will have a yakudoshi next year and the two following years after that, which I am not looking forward to at all! Toshiiwai is the event to celebrate one’s long life at the ages of 60/(61 under the kazoedoshi system), 70, 77, 88 and 99.
In modern Japan, kazoedoshi is not a major system for us. However, it is still expressed in our life at certain points. Do you have certain events associated with a particular age in your country as well?