傘寿 sanju—80 years old

Today (11th March) is my father-in-law’s 80th birthday.

We invited him over last night for a birthday dinner to celebrate the big day.

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It was actually his first time to visit our house, even though he lives nearby and we’ve been here for almost a year. On previous occasions, we’ve gone out for a meal together or met at his house. The dogs were delighted to have a visitor!

We also took the opportunity to borrow some plates and other stuff from him, because we will have visitors from Ireland soon and we’re only really set up for two people. He asked me to take a look at a problem with his video, and I managed to solve it. Which was good, although in fact all I did was disconnect the cables and reconnect them exactly the same way, so I don’t know. Maybe one of the connections was loose.

80 years old is called sanju (umbrella age). Why? Well, there is a kind of wordplay that associates certain ages with particular names. See the table in the photo below:

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The kanji character for umbrella 傘 seems to combine the character for eight 八 and the character for ten 十.

More famous is 米寿 beiju—rice age for 88 years old. By a similar logic, 88 (normally written 八十八) gets piled up into the single character 米 meaning rice.

My favourite is 白寿 hakuju—white age (99 years old). Why is it white? Well, the character for 100 looks like this:

and the character for one looks like this:

So if you subtract 一 from 百 what are you left with?

And that’s how “white” comes to mean 99. Does that make sense?

Incidentally, the right-hand table shows the ages that are considered “years of misfortune” (yakudoshi). So if you were born in Showa year 28 or 47 or Heisei year 1 (men) or in Showa year 52 or 56, or Heisei year 7 (women), you might want to be extra careful this year.

(I was born in Showa 46 so this is a year of “lesser danger” for me).

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