Kanreki 2009 New Year Greetings
2009 is the Asian zodiac year of the earth ox, my sixty first calendar year, and my sixtieth birthday this year on 9/9/9, and thereby my celebration of Kanreki. 60 years. Made it!
Traditionally in Japan, when a person reaches their sixty-first year, they have lived through the entire sixty-year cycle of the traditional eto calendar of ten stems and twelve branches, and returned to the same year and horoscope sign in which they were born. The celebration of this not-small triumph is called Kanreki (pronounced kahn reh-kee). Kan means cycle, and reki means calendar. The celebration is also referred to as Honke gaeri “return to birth-year sign”. It has been popular in Japan since the Edo period hundreds of years ago.
Along with the 12-animal Asian zodiac, each person is born under one of 5 elemental signs (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water). These two cycles reset every 60 years. The honoree has been 5 times around the Asian zodiac with its 12 animal years, and so we get 12 x 5 = 60. As a result, a person is said to be starting their second cycle of life at 60.
Here is a description of this coming year from my friend Koichi Barrish, chief priest of Tsubaki Jinja Shrine northeast of Seattle:
HEISEI 21/TSUCHINOTO/USHI DOSHI/KYUSHI KASEI meaning the 21st year of the Heisei reign of current Emperor, 6th of the Ji-Kan 10 Celestial Stems Inner Aspect of Earth, Year of the Ox and a Nine Purple Fire Ki Year.
Year of the Ox, Signifies leadership, strength, power and stability. As for Kyushi Kasei it is the 9th number of the cycle of 9. It is situated in the south position which is at the top or head of the 9-star compass so it implies mental development and intelligence. 9 is the highest number compared to 1. Its color is purple which implies high rank. It is common sense that happiness visits the family who treasures life, ancestors and Kami. It is the sun above your head at noon and implies vigorous ki, especially mental ki. In terms of fortune it is the time to make a plan, to sow, to fertilize and to prepare for the future.
Kanreki is connected to the idea of rebirth, and so it is customary to give the celebrant a red cap, a red zabuton seat cushion, and a red chanchanko vest, all similar to those used as a newborn. Red is the color most often associated with children in Japan, the way we in America might use the term green as in “greenhorn”. Aka-chan – literally “little red one” – means baby in Japanese. In a symbolic rebirth then, donning red represents a return to the potentials of youth.
A 60-year old is expected to use Kanreki as a year of reflection. We examine our lives, evaluate our achievements, and use the time as a good opportunity to plan the direction in which we move as we begin the next sixty-year cycle of life. Thus dressed in red, the old one takes the seat of honor as children, grandchildren, relatives, and friends gather to wish a happy new life and many more years of joy and vitality.
An-shu Rumiko and I have a series of seminars, trips, special events, and our 29th annual Festival of training planned for my Kanreki 60th birthday year. I hope you will be able to join us at many of these.
On beyond Kanreki, there are additional longevity celebrations in Japan. I plan someday to enjoy telling you all about Chaju, the party year celebrated upon reaching “one hundred eight” in age.