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Home » Archives » December 2006 » Counting Birthdays

Counting Birthdays

Sunday, December 24, 2006 Posted: 04:48 PM JST

Today's my birthday and that got me thinking on a great irregularity in the Western way of doing things. I can't even start to count the Westerners who have complained to me over the years that Japanese are not logical and that this country is full of contradictions. The truth is of course that no culture is truly logical, nor without contradictions. How do you explain this glaring Western one away?

When counting years, the new year is counted from the very first day. It is 2007 from January 1. However, when counting birthdays you don't reach a particular age until the day after you have finished that year. A Westerner celebrates that (s)he is 1 year old on the 366th day of his or her life.

There is some logic in here. Don't count your eggs until they have actually been laid. But it is completely different from how the years are counted.

In some cultures, however, birthdays are counted in the way years are. Japanese Shinto does this for example. You are 1 year old from the moment you are born. Just like it is 2007 from January 1. This seems a lot more logical.

There are also cultures where birthdays are counted from New Year. If you are born on October 15, you turn 1 on January 1st. This seems a bit odd to me. I guess these cultures don't celebrate birthdays. It would be tough to have so many parties on a single day of the year...

Keywords: culture_news

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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
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