Last week I reached my kanreki and here in Japan, that calls for a great celebration with family and friends.
“Kan” refers to a “cycle” and “reki” means calendar and together “kanreki” means a full cycle around the calendar or more precisely around the Chinese zodiac. Along with the 12-animal Chinese Zodiac, each person is born under one of 5 elemental signs (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water). The animal that represents the year changes with each new year, while the element changes every 12 years after one full revolution through all of the animals. These two cycles take 60 years (12 animals x 5 elements=60 years). This year 2009 is not simply an Ox year, but more specifically a yellow or Earth Ox, just as it was 60 years ago when I was born. Thus I have seen a full cycle. This is my kanreki year.
To celebrate, the person turning 60 years old usually wears red clothing that traditionally includes a red hat (e-boshi) and a sleeveless red vest (chanchanko). The color is symbolic since the word aka-chan or literally, “red one” means baby in Japanese. A 60-year-old person is once again a “baby” who is about to embark on their next 60-year cycle. It is a rebirth. Wearing red symbolizes that renewal of life as the second cycle begins. Sixty-year-olds are expected to use their kanreki as a year of reflection. They are to look at their lives and achievements and then plan which direction they would like to take as their lives begin a second sixty year cycle.
And so this weekend, I celebrated my birthday in Tokyo with my son and his family. And in a blend of American and Japanese traditions, we painted the town so red that even the astronauts looking down from the space station had to ask, “Oh, what is that red glow over Tokyo this weekend?”
And now life begins all over again.