Japan is well known for its oldest life expectancy in the world. The average life expectancy is 86 for women and 79 for men. In 2013, there were 54,397 centenarians! Landmark birthdays are celebrated in a unique way with a play on words and kanji.
Age kazoe doshi
Kanji / Reading
Origin of Celebration
Usually celebrated on one’s 60th birthday, kanreki marks the year that an individual has gone through the Chinese calendar which has a 60-year cycle consisting of十干十二支Jikkan (ten stems) and Junishi (twelve signs of the Chinese Zodiac). It is also called hongaeri, signifying a return to the year of birth.
Common presents are red cap, a chanchanko vest, and elaborate seat cushion. Red is essential here as it symbolizes youth, and the cap and vest are similar to what a baby wears.
Age 60 is also yakudoshi* for men. Wearing red, which is said to repel evil spirits, is also lucky.
This celebration comes from the Chinese poet Toho who wrote “It is rare if one lives to seventy”. Traditionally, a purple hat and vest are worn at the 70th and 77th birthdays.
77 is celebrated because the kanji for happiness 喜 in cursive looks like two sevens 七.
Sanju isn’t celebrated as commonly as some of the other rites, but since the abbreviated form of 傘 is vertically written as 八十(lucky eight and ten), 80 year olds get a special celebration.
The kanji for rice 米 can be broken down into 八十八 or 88. The double eights that broaden downward are considered especially prosperous, thus, 88 is celebrated as a lucky birthday. An elaborate gold colored vest and hat are gifted for the 88th birthday
The kanji 卒 in abbreviated form is written vertically as 九十, which can also be read as 90.
The kanji for white 白 and the number 99 both become 百 a hundred by adding one ( 白+一=百). Thus, 99 is celebrated in hopes that the birthday boy or girl will live another year and reach 100! Hakuju is celebrated with a white hat and vest.
* yakudoshi: A superstition dating back to that Heian Period that says one faces three years of bad luck at specific ages.
Sarah is a long-time resident born and raised in Japan. She spends her time trying to raise her children, translating and making soy candles on the side. She loves the beach, paddle boarding, mountain lakes and Japanese beer :)