September 11, 2020 3 min read

In Japan, Respect for the Aged Day is a national holiday that takes place on the third Monday of September every year. The purpose of it is to show respect and celebrate the longevity of the aged who have contributed to the society for many years. The holiday was first celebrated in the 23rd year of the Showa Era (1948). Back then, Respect for the Aged Day took place on 15 September every year, but now it takes place on the third Monday of September after the adoption of the Happy Monday system after the 15th year of the Heisei Era (2003).

There were various theories as to why 15 September was initially chosen to be the Respect for the Aged Day. 15 September was the day when Prince Shotoku (Shotoku Taishi) established the Hidenin, a welfare facility for the poor and orphans in Shitennouji, Osaka, which has become a home for the aged. Another theory has it that the Empress Genshou (Genshou Tennou) paid an imperial visit to the Yourou falls in Gifu on 15 September 717, which was believed to contain medicinal properties that can cure any diseases. “Yourou” means living at ease in one’s old age and it was thought that Empress Genshou named the next Era as “Yourou” during that imperial visit – 717 was the first year of the Yourou era.

In general, people over the age of 60 falls under the category of being ‘aged’. One may question why 60? That’s because it’s the year when one would celebrate his/her birthday on his/her zodiac year (Kanreki). In Japan, people would generally keep track of the animal zodiac sign (Eto). There are twelve zodiac signs in total which would be repeated in a 12-year cycle in the order of Rat (Nezumi), Ox (Ushi), Tiger (Tora), Rabbit (Usagi), Dragon (Tatsu), Snake (Hebi), Horse (Uma), Goat (Hitsuji), Monkey (Saru), Rooster (Tori), Dog (Inu), and Pig (Inoshishi). The zodiac sign was invented in historical China to help keep track of the cyclic weather and season, which was crucial for agriculture, and they are still used till this day despite modernization.

Still, with the advancement of medical technology and emphasis of healthy lifestyles, we often see people in their 60s who are as fit as the young; age is nothing but a number. Hence, the border of being ‘aged’ has started to blur in recent times. As such, the following suggested criteria offer a useful yardstick to help one make an appropriate judgment for the definition of ‘aged’.

  1. Someone who has retired
  2. Someone over the age of 70s or 80s
  3. Someone who has become a grandparent

The customs of Respect for the Aged Day are not clearly defined, but most grandchildren in Japan offer presents like traditional Japanese treats (Wagashi) or flowers to pay their respects to their grandparents on this day. Of course, there are no emphasize on familial ties – people celebrate for the longevity of the elderly who are not blood-related on this day too. Here are some woodblock prints that you may consider gifting to your closed ones.

Cranes on a Snow Covered Pine Tree (1834) by Hokusai

Cranes on a Snow Covered Pine Tree (1834) by Hokusai

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Swallows and Kingfisher with Rose Mallows (1838) by Hiroshige

Swallows and Kingfisher with Rose Mallows (1838) by Hiroshige

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Bellflower and Dragonfly (1833) by Hokusai

Bellflower and Dragonfly (1833) by Hokusai

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Hibiscus and Sparrow (1833) by Hokusai

Hibiscus and Sparrow (1833) by Hokusai

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Peonies and Butterfly (1830-1831) by Hokusai

Peonies and Butterfly (1830-1831) by Hokusai

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