Kanreki is the Japanese word used to describe someone’s 60th birthday celebration. In Japan, this particular birthday has a lot of symbolic significance and meaning, beyond our Western idea of an age of retirement. It is quite a magical time and is as much a beginning or rebirth as a completion. Kanreki literally translates to 還 kan, meaning return or cycle and 暦 reki meaning calendar.
The Chinese Zodiac was bought to Japan by Buddhist monks somewhere around the middle of the 6th century, and was adopted by the Japanese. They call it junishi. Historically, Japan was a pretty superstitious place and this zodiac is still popular. The junishi is a cycle of 60 years, 12 animal symbols, that cycle through 5 different elements, earth, water, fire, air and metal. So that on your 60th birthday you have completed one entire cycle through the complete calendar of the Zodiac. One day for each animal, in each element, once.
I have just turned 48, so I was born in the year of the rat and it is currently the year of the rat. This is my first cycle through rat in metal, but my last cycle through rat before it returns to water, which is what it was when I was born. So my next cycle I will begin again, and it will be on my 60th birthday.
Traditionally the celebration of Kanreki includes the symbolic gesture of the person handing down the responsibilities as head of the household, a father to his eldest son and successor and a mother, a rice paddle to her eldest son’s wife, signifying the transfer of responsibility of the management of the household. The party is usually given by the family and the guest of honour wears red. There are many traditional foods and “giri” or obligation gift rules and etiquette, as with all Japanese ceremony and tradition, are adhered to. I think I will enjoy celebrating my kanreki in 12 years, and perhaps even aim to have it in Japan. The outfit is quite fancy and I like the idea of starting a “new or second childhood” with time to find new interests.
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