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How Is It Celebrated in Your Country? “Toshi-iwai” Japan’s Celebration of Longevity

Well known twin sisters in Japan; “Kin-san” and “Gin-san” have lived over a century

There are many celebrations in countries around the world. There are some celebrations that are unique to the country, but there are also others like birthdays and New Years that are commonly celebrated around the world. The celebration of longevity, called “toshi-iwai”, may perhaps be one of those commonly celebrated events.

Celebration of age is called “gaju” in Japan, and is celebrated at certain milestones in age after a person’s 61st birthday. It is said to have originated in China and there are over 10 celebrations starting at 61 years old. Each age celebration has a name and has a different meaning behind it, making each celebration unique.

Here we would like to introduce the Japanese toshi-iwai which is filled in variety.

 

Name and Origin for Japanese Celebrations of Milestone Years, “Toshi-iwai”

60(61) Years Old “Kanreki” (means ‘calendar in full circle’)

還暦

celebration-of-61th
Photo by flickr

This originates from the cycle of the Chinese zodiac (a system that was brought to Japan from China) which runs full circle in 60 years after birth. It is also called “Honke gaeri” which means returning back to the Chinese zodiac of the birthyear.

It celebrates one returning to a newborn and starting life once again. As babies are called “akachan” (“aka” in the term uses the character for red), it is customary to celebrate by gifting red hats and “chanchanko” vests for children to be sent to the person celebrating their 61st year. The person being celebrated would wear these items.

 

70 Years Old “Koki” (means ‘a rarity since antiquity’)

古稀

Celebratory Color: Purple

celebration-of-70th
Photo by flickr

In the past, as the average lifespan was shorter, the kanreki was a large celebration. Now that the lifespan is longer, it is said to be more common to have a larger celebration for the “koki”.

It originates from a phrase by a famous Chinese poet Dufu, “人生七十古来稀也” which means that it is rare for people to live to 70. The characters used in this phrase make up the characters for the term koki.

 

77 Years Old “Kiju” (means ‘celebration of happiness’)

喜寿

Celebratory Color: Purple

celebration-of-77th
Photo by flickr

This originates from the character “喜 (ki)” in kiju, meaning “happiness”. When written shorthand, it is represented by 3 characters for seven “七”, which looks like 77 “七十七”.

 

80 Years Old “Sanju” (means ‘celebration of umbrella’)

傘寿

Celebratory Color: Yellow (Golden brown)

celebration-of-80th
Photo by flickr

This originates in the characters for 80 “八十” resembling the shorthand for the character “傘 (san)” in sanju. The character itself means umbrella.

 

88 Years Old “Beiju” (means ‘celebration of rice’)

米寿

Celebratory Color: Gold, Golden Brown, Yellow

celebration-of-88th
Photo by flickr

It originates from the character “米” for rice representing the characters for 88 “八十八” when broken down in segments. It is also called the celebration for rice.  

 

90 Years Old “Sotsuju” (means ‘celebration of graduation’)

卒寿

Celebratory Color: Purple

celebration-of-90th
Photo by flickr

It originates in the abbreviation for the character “卒(sotsu)” meaning celebration, appearing like they are made up of the characters for the numbesr 9 “九”and 10 “十“. Also because the character 9 “九”is used as a part of the character “鳩 (read ‘hato’, or ‘kyu’)”for pigeon, the celebration is also called “kyuju”.

 

99 Years Old “Baiju” (means ‘celebration of white’)

白寿

Celebratory Color: White

celebration-of-99th
Photo by flickr

This originates from the character for 100 “百 (hyaku)” and taking “一” (which represents the number 1) away from the character, forming the character “白 (bai)”, which becomes the character for white.

 

100 Years Old “Hyakuju” (means ‘celebration of hundred’)

百寿

celebration-of-100th
Photo by flickr

As the name indicates, this originates in the celebration for 100 (hyaku) years old.

 

108 Years Old “Chaju ” (means ‘celebration of tea’)

茶寿

Celebratory Color: None (There are no designated colors after the 100 years).

celebration-of-108th
Photo by flickr

When the character “茶 (cha)” meaning tea, is dissected, it makes up of the character for 10 “十” used twice horizontally on top, and 88 “八十八“. These added together are 20 + 88, making up 108 which is the origin of this celebration.

 

111 Years Old “Koju ” (means ‘imperial celebration’)

皇寿

celebration-of-111th
Photo by flickr

The character “皇 (ko)” for emperor, when dissected makes up “白 (the character for white, but represents 99 as explained previously), “一” 1, ”十” 10, and “一” 1. These added altogether are 99+1+10+1=111. As 111 resembles the character “川” for river, read “sen” it is also called “senju”.

 

120 Years Old “Dai Kanreki ” (means ‘the great kanreki’)

大還暦

celebration-of-120th
Photo by flickr

As the name “great” kanreki implies, it originates from 2 times the age of kanreki.

 

These events are celebrated on the birthday or the “Keiro no hi” (Respect-for-the-Aged Day which falls on the 3rd Monday of September each year). The way of celebration can vary by region but it is customary to gift something in the celebratory color assigned to each milestone age.

It seems there are various celebrations of longevity outside of Japan so it may be interesting to compare with celebrations of other countries as well.

Related Articles:
Traditional Japanese Osekihan: Happy Rice Dish for Celebratory Days

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KAWATA

About the author

I'm interested in general in all things related to culture and fine arts with a focus on movies, art, and design. I hope to introduce to many people all the different sides to Japan in regards to Japanese culture.

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