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Growing old - like vintage wine

By: Kotoko Chinen

Date Posted: 1999-09-25

Being known as the island of the longevity not only in Japan but also throughout the world, growing old on Okinawa is far from being a time to be put out to pasture. In fact, the older you are, the more valued you become to family and friends. And there’s plenty of cause for celebration, particularly if you’re just about to turn either, 60, 88, or 97 years of age.

Celebrations for those who are 60, 88, and 97 are known as "Kanreki," "Tokachi," and "Kajimaya" respectively, and are traditional events widely feted in Okinawa.


Once upon a time, there was a healthy 8 year-old boy. One day, an old man with a white goatee came down from the sky and stopped the boy.

The old man said to the boy: "You're very healthy, but you're doomed to die at the age of eight," and walked toward a mountain where people set up an alter for the god.

The child hurried back to his house and told his parents what had happened.

As soon as his father heard what happened, he got on a horse and looked for the old man. Shortly after, he found the man, dismounted his horse, put his hands on the ground and begged.

"You told my son that he would only live until he was eight years old. Please, give us a hand."

The old man ignored the father and kept on walking. The father caught up to the old man and once again begged before him.

"Please do me a favor. Could you extend my son's life just ten more years?"

"O.K. Go and see the god in the mountain and take with you plenty of food and sake," the old man told the father. The father went back to the mountain and did as he was ordered.

The god in charge of deciding on the longevity of humans was playing Go with his friend. The god was completely absorbed in the game, and didn't notice the human standing beside him. The father placed the feast in front of them. Then, the god and his friend began to eat the food and drink sake while continuing with the game. After the game was finished, the father started talking to the god.

"It is my understanding that my son's life span is eight according to the providential Book. But, my son is already eight years old. Could you please do something to extend his life?"

The god said: "Every human has their own longevity and it's written in this book when they were born and I can't change that. But, we enjoyed your food and sake, so I want to help you."

The god turned the page where the man's son name was written and added the number eight.

The boy lived for 88 years and since then, people began to celebrate their 88 years birthday on the 8th day of 8th month, which is August 8.

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