How old are you… I mean really…

W

hen I teach Japanese Literature, I usually have to explain the calendrical issues inherent in Premodern Japanese culture. For those of us in the West, it can sometimes be confusing.

For example, the lunar calendar forces everyone to rethink the months. For most of us, the first month of the year is January and in the dead of winter, but in premodern Japan–as well as most other premodern Asian cultures–the first month is usually around the middle of what we now know as February. So when we translate stuff into English, I alway remind my students that the first month should never be translated as January, the second month is not February, and so on.

Even the season can confuse. The First Month is not only the beginning of the year, it is also the beginning of the seasonal cycle. Therefore, the First Month is the start of Spring, which would explain the great number of spring poems that mention snow; and the strong blast of winds in August are called Fall Winds.

But this is relatively easy compared to counting one’s age. In the West, we count the years we have already lived. So if you are 22 years old, I presume that you have been alive for 22 full years plus the time in between your 22nd and 23rd birthday. In other words, your age is based on the time you personally have been alive relative to our space/time continuum. However, in premodern East Asia–and sometimes even now–one’s age is determined by the number of years you have lived relative to the calendar.

Let’s say I was born on December 15–which I was. At the moment of birth, I was one-year old, because it would be the first calendar year in which I was alive. After 16 days, on January 1, I will be 2 years old because I will have entered the second calendar year of my life. Make sense?

Getting To Know Someone From A to Z

Anyway, I got on this topic because of a A to Z Blog Survey that posted by Starberri. You know, one of those, answer-the-questions-to-let-everyone-know-who-you-are surveys. Well, I decided to answer it, but I will answer them one at a time–which means I will have at least 26 topics for the foreseeable future.

So here’s the first one…

A – Age: 50 by western calculations (51 in December); 52 by old Japanese/East Asian calculations.

How old would you be today using the traditional East Asian method of counting age?

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