The third Monday of September is Respect for the Aged Day, a national holiday in Japan. The Japanese call national holidays “red days” because they appear in red print on the calendar. As this will make September 12–14 a long weekend, be prepared for heavier than usual traffic and crowded trains if you are traveling.
Japanese people traditionally wear red on their 60th birthday because 60 years is one cycle on the Chinese calendar and after 60, it is said that you become a baby again. Babies in Japan are called “aka-chan” or “red one.”
Respect for the Aged Day, called keiro no hi, is not quite like “Grandparent’s Day” in the U.S. It is far more serious. Neighborhoods will have volunteers distribute free “obento” boxed lunches to elderly people in the neighborhood and smaller villages will hold keirokai shows where the younger people and school children prepare dances and songs for a special keirokai ceremony. The elderly attendees are also treated to lunch, tea, and sweets after the performance.
As Japan’s nation grays and people get older and older, some of these traditions may change, however. On the small island of 700 people where I live, the keirokai ceremony used to be held for those 60 years old and over. But with so many people over the age of 60 now, the qualifying age to attend the keirokai has steadily increased, and is now 65. As Japan’s society ages and nursing homes become more popular, being old may not be so special anymore—but rather the norm.
Respect for the Aged Day is also a way to honor longevity, and Japanese people have always been some of the longest living in the world. But this is also changing as more and more Japanese people add meat and other western foods to their diets. In addition, city living is seen to cut lifespan due to pollution and stress.
Amy Chavez is a columnist for The Japan Times. Visit her website at http://www.moooobar.com