Determining your Age in South Korea
When I was in Japan, I met a friend from South Korea. We were chatting and getting to know each other. When I asked him his age, he told me he was 25, but by Western standards, he said he was 23.
I thought about what he just said. Two different ages, one by Korean and one by Western standards. I was confused.
Over the past few years, I had been studying Mandarin on and off and recently started looking into learning Japanese. Not once during my studies had I come across a different way of calculating ages.
So, I asked him: “What do you mean? Different ages?”
He then explained to me that, in South Korea, when you’re born, you’re automatically 1. This is because you have commenced Year 1.
To get even more interesting, when you reach January 1, you commence Year 2 and you become 2 years old. So everyone ends up being 2 approximately two years older than their age (by non-South Korean standards).
I thought about it, and this system actually makes birthdays extremely easy to remember! No need to remember when everyone’s birthday is. This also makes age really easy to calculate. I don’t know about you, but every time I try to calculate someone’s birthday, I usually give up halfway through because it’s too complicated and too much math (I studied language after all).
East Asian Age Reckoning
After chatting with my new friend, I looked it up online. The term is called East Asian Age Reckoning and there’s a whole Wikipedia article on it.
Apparently, so says the article, East Asian Age Reckoning originated in China and expanded to other parts of Asia, primarily Korea and Japan. In East Asian Age Reckoning tradition, a baby is considered 1 years old when they are in their first year. In Western traditions, a baby is considered 0 years old when they are in their first year (until they complete the first year and become 1 years old).
East Asian Age Reckoning is no longer a practice in Japan and North Korea, where they now use the Western age calculation used by most other countries1. In China, East Asian Age Reckoning is used alongside Western age calculation. There are even different words to distinguish between the two types of ages2. In South Korea, primarily East Asian Age Reckoning is used3, but Western age calculation is used for licenses and permits4.
A Universal Birthday
Despite the fact that everyone in South Korea has a universal birthday, South Koreans celebrate both New Years and the anniversary of the day they were born as their birthdays5. Two birthdays in one year! Not too shabby.
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