November 15th is Shichi-go-san (七五三, read as 7-5-3). This is a day when girls aged 3 and 7 and boys aged 5 are dressed up in beautiful kimonos and taken to temples to pray. Other days when children have a shared celebration are Hina Matsuri (ひな祭り, Girl’s Day Festival) on March 3rd and Kodomo no Hi (こどもの日, Children’s Day) on May 5th. Then there’s Seijin no Hi (成人の日, Coming of Age Day) in January.
I wondered about the whole one-day-for-all festivals, and it was explained to me that in a way, they were like Japanese birthdays. Birthdays aren’t as special as Hina Matsuri or Kodomo no Hi here in Japan. It might be because of the importance of the group or something, but it seems having a big celebration for everyone has been a long time tradition. A friend told me that people in Japan got a year older on New Year’s Day, as opposed to one’s day of birth. I googled this recently and found this:
Is it true that when a baby is born in Japan it is automatically 1 year old? Thank you.
Yes and no. Japanese have 2 ways of counting age. One is the ‘kazoe’ system, which is the same as we use in the west.
It is used in everday conversation.
The older form of counting is the ‘man’ system. In Japan one’s age is counted from the day you were supposed to be conceived – hence in Japan they say that a pregnancy is ’10 months long’, since in the west they usually start counting pregnancy from the first missed persiod.
In the older system in Japan the first year is not a full calendar year. So when you are born, you are called one year old, and then on the next Jan. 1st you are called a year older. For example, if a baby is born on Dec 1st, it is called one year old. One month later, on Jan 1st, the baby is now ‘2 years old’, or really, in your second year. But birthdays are still celebrated on the same calendar day – otherwise you’d have 127 million birthday celebrations on Jan 1st.
On some resume forms for example, you might still see the Chinese character for ‘man’ in the birthday form, indicating
that the system used is the man system. It can be confusing even to Japanese, and the system on forms is changing more and more to just listing what your birthday is so there is no confusion.
Japanese also count their emperors along the same lines.
Everyone in Japan knows and uses the Gregorian calendar, but on official documents you still might see the query for your birthday with the year as what emperor and what year of rule he was in. For example, if you were born in 1955 you would list your birthday as ‘Showa 30’, since Showa refers to the late emperor Hirohito, and he first became emperor in 1925. Emperor Akihito became emperor when Hirohito died in 1988. But the last year of Hirohito was not a full calendar year – he died in March, if I remember right – and the first year of Akihito was just a little more than 8 mos. long. But it is called his first ‘year’
(gannen) although it is not a full calendar year.
Hope that helps,