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East Asian age reckoning is a concept and practice that originated in China and is used in East Asian cultures. Several East Asian cultures, such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolia, Taiwanese and Vietnamese, share this traditional way of counting a person's age, in which a person's age is counted starting from conception, rather than from physical birth. Newborns start at one year old, and each passing of a New Year, rather than the birthday, adds one year to the person's age; this results in people being between 1 and 2 years older in Asian reckoning than in the Western version. Today this system is commonly used in Koreans' daily lives, with the exception of the legal system and newspapers. In Eastern Outer Mongolia, age is traditionally determined based on the number of full moons since conception for girls, and the number of new moons since birth for boys. In China and Japan it is used for traditional fortune-telling or religion, and it is disappearing in daily life between people in the city.



In either the traditional or modern age system, the word sui (traditional Chinese: simplified Chinese: pinyin: suì), meaning "years of age", is used for age counting. When a person's age is given in a publication, it is often specified whether that is his or her traditional age (traditional Chinese: 虛歲; simplified Chinese: 虚岁; pinyin: xūsuì) or modern age (traditional Chinese: 周歲; simplified Chinese: 周岁; pinyin: zhōusùi) or shisui (traditional Chinese: 實歲; simplified Chinese: 实岁; pinyin: shísùi).

In the traditional age system, a person is considered a year old at the time of birth, to account for the gestation period in the womb.[1][2]


Japanese uses the word sai ( or ) as a counter word for both the traditional and modern age system.

The traditional system of age reckoning, or kazoedoshi (数え年), was rendered obsolete by law in 1902 when Japan officially adopted the Western system,[3][4][5] known in Japanese as man nenrei (満年齢). However, the traditional system was still commonly used, so in 1950 another law was established to encourage people to use the Western system.[6][7][8]

Today the traditional system is mainly used by the elderly. Elsewhere its use is limited to traditional ceremonies, divinations, and obituaries.


Koreans generally refer to their age in units called sal (살), using Korean numerals in ordinal form. Thus, a person is one sal during the first calendar year of life, and ten sal during the tenth calendar year.[9]

The 100th-day anniversary of a baby is called baegil (백일), which literally means "a hundred days" in Korean, and is given a special celebration, marking the survival of what was once a period of high infant mortality. The first anniversary of birth named dol (돌)) is likewise celebrated, and given even greater significance. Koreans celebrate their birthdays,[10] even though every Korean gains one year on New Year's Day.[11] Because the first year comes at birth and the second on New Year's Day, a child born, for example, on December 29 will reach two years of age on January 1, when they are only three days old in western reckoning.[12]

In modern Korea, the Western age system is referred to as "man-nai" (만나이) in which "man" (만) means "full"[13] or "actual", and "nai" meaning "age".[11][14] Though, the traditional system is most often used. For example, man yeol sal means "full ten years", or "ten years old" in English. The Korean word dol means "years elapsed", identical to the English "years old", but is only used to refer to the first few birthdays. Cheotdol or simply dol refers to the first Western-equivalent birthday, dudol refers to the second, and so on.[15][16]

The birthday by the lunar calendar is called eumnyeok saeng-il (음력 생일, 陰曆生日) and yangnyeok saeng-il (양력 생일, 陽曆生日) is the birthday by Gregorian calendar.[17]

For official government uses, documents, and legal procedures, the Western age system is used. Regulations regarding age limits on alcohol and tobacco use, as well as the age of consent, are all based on the Western system (man-nai).[14][18]

See also


  1. ^ "98, 90 or 93? Expert sheds light on tycoon’s age". The Star. October 25, 2007. Retrieved 2009-02-26.  
  2. ^ Shi Liwei (30 April 2009). "Why Chinese People Have a Nominal Age". Retrieved 11 November 2009.  
  3. ^ レファレンス事例詳細: 相-090002, Collaborative Reference Database. (Accessed 2009-11-11.) "なお、年齢が数えか満年齢かについては、現行法規である「年齢計算ニ関スル法律」が明治35年12月2日法律第50号として存在するが、その前に「明治六年第三十六号布告」で満年齢について規定された。 (translation: Whether one counts age the modern age system (満年齢) is described by the "Legal age calculation" law initiated Meiji 35 (1902), December 2, Act no. 50 exists prior to the "13 Years of Meiji 6 Proclamation No. 6" prescribed for the modern age system (満年齢).)"
  4. ^ "年齢計算ニ関スル法律 Act on Calculation of Ages" (in Japanese). Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Japan. 1902.  
  5. ^ "Act on Calculation of Ages". Ministry of Justice, Japan. 1902.  
  6. ^ Hirofumi Hirano, July Heisei 40, 年齢の計算に関する質問主意書 (Memorandum on questions about the calculation of age), Japan House of Representatives. (Retrieved 2009-11-11) "わが国では、「年齢のとなえ方に関する法律」に基づき、昭和二十五年以降数え年による年齢計算を止め、満年齢によって年齢を計算している。 (translation: In Japan, the age laws which were originally based on the calculation by East Asian age reckoning (数え年) were replaced Twenty-five years after the Showa (1950) with the modern age system (満年齢) method of age calculation.)"
  7. ^ "年齢のとなえ方に関する法律Act on Counting of Ages" (in Japanese). Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Japan. 1949, effective in 1950.  
  8. ^ "Act on Counting of Ages". Ministry of Justice, Japan. 1949.  
  9. ^ Song, Jae Jung. (2005), p. 81-82, (quote) "Koreans prefer native Korean to Sino-Korean numerals when telling their own or other people's age,...Note that the native age classifier sal must be used with native Korean numerals and the Sino-Korean age classifier sey with Sino-Korean numerals,.."
  10. ^ DuBois (2004), pp. 72-73
  11. ^ a b Park, Hyunjoo; Pan, Yuling (2007-05-19). "Cognitive Interviewing with Asian Populations: Findings from Chinese and Korean Interviews". Anaheim, CA: RTI International. Retrieved 2009-11-11. "Koreans are considered one year old at birth and added another year at New Year’s....some Koreans may use American age counting convention while others still follow Korean convention. To eliminate this confusion, Korean asked “만나이(Man-nai)’: the same as the U.S. age counting convention."  
  12. ^ "What are the special birthdays?". Deseret News. 2006-12-28.,5143,650218366,00.html. "Korean babies are "1" at birth and turn a year older on lunar New Year's, adds Tangherlini. "Tol" is celebration of the first anniversary of the birth, so a child born right before lunar New Year might be considered "2 years old" from day 3 through the next New Year."  
  13. ^ "만7(滿)" (in Korean). Nate Korean Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-11-11. "시기나 햇수를 꽉 차게 헤아림을 이르는 말.(trans. The word refers to calculating full years or periods."  
  14. ^ a b Hilts and Kim, (2002), p.228 (quote) "Koreans have a peculiar way of calculating age. When you're born, you're already one year old, and then you get another year older when New Year's Day rolls around. The result is that your hangungnai (한국나이), 'Korean age', is usually one to tow years older than your man-nai (만 나이), 'actual age'. Under-age kids sometimes try to take some advantage of this, but eligibility for drinking, obtaining license etc is determined by your actual age."
  15. ^ "돌 [Dol]" (in Korean). Nate Korean-English Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-11-11. ")"  
  16. ^ "돌1 [Dol]" (in Korean). Nate Korean Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-11-11. "Ⅰ. (명사) 어린아이가 태어난 날로부터 한 해가 되는 날. (Ⅱ )1. 생일이 돌아온 횟수를 세는 단위. 주로 두세 살의 어린아이에게 쓴다. 2. 특정한 날이 해마다 돌아올 때, 그 횟수를 세는 단위.)"  
  17. ^ Kim Tae-yeop (김태엽) (2006-08-08). "'8월 18일은 이승엽 DAY!'...요미우리, 축하 이벤트 마련 ['The day on August 18 is Lee Seung-Yeop's Day!'..Yomiuri, preparing a congratulatory event]" (in Korean). Sports Chosun. Retrieved 2009-11-11. "최근 이승엽의 아버지 이춘광씨는 보통 양력생일을 치르는 요즘의 추세와 달리 이승엽의 음력 생일(1976년 8월18일)을 치르는 사연을 밝혀 화제가 됐다 (trans. It was a recent topic that Lee Chun-gwang, the father of Lee Seung-Yeop, revealed the reason why Lee Seung-Yeop takes his lunar birthday on August 18, 1976 instead of the solar birthday as opposed to the current trend.)"  
  18. ^ "성년 成年, full age" (in Korean). Nate / Britannica. Retrieved 2009-11-11. "한국의 경우 만 20세로 성년이 되며(민법 제4조)...연령의 계산은 민법 제155조 이하의 규정에 의하나, 출생일을 산입한다(동법 제158조). 1977년의 민법 개정으로 혼인에 의한 성년의제(成年擬制)의 제도를 도입했다..대통령선거법·국회의원선거법·국민투표법·지방자치법·지방의회의원선거법·미성년자보호법 등에서는 이 원칙이 적용되지 않는다."  


  • DuBois, Jill (2004). Korea. 7 of Cultures of the world. Marshall Cavendish. pp. 72–73. ISBN 0761417869.  
  • Hilts, J. D.; Kim, Minkyoung (2002). Korean phrasebook. Lonely Planet. p. 228.. ISBN 1740591666.  
  • Song, Jae Jung (2005). The Korean language: structure, use and context. Routledge. pp. 81–82. ISBN 0415328020.  

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