Kazoe-doshi and our lives

Etsuko Mikame

When we spend new year’s day, we eat especial cuisines and visit family to celebrate the beginning of the new year in. When I was still child, one of my favorite things during the new year’s days is to visit my relatives. In Japan, we have a custom called “Otoshidama”. We give our children and relative’s children money in special envelopes to celebrate the new year. But as I already grew up, I would rather give money to my relative’s children than receiving money from my relatives.

There is a traditional Japanese manner of counting one’s age which is called “Kazoe-doshi”. We hardly used this way of counting one’s age nowadays, but we commonly used to count one’s age with Kazoe-doshi until about 150 years ago in Japan.

We usually count one’s age every time one’s birthday comes. But based on the way of counting one’s age in Kazoe-doshi, newborn is considered a year old (instead of “zero”) when they are born because the period of 10 months in a mother’s belly is also considered as the start of one’s life. So, when you count your age in Kazoe-doshi, your age can be counted a year older than your actual age. The method of Kazoe-doshi focused on the preciousness of being born as human beings. And in Kazoe-doshi, everyone adds one year to their age at the New Year.  According to the system of Kazoe-doshi, since the new year’s day was like birthday for everyone, family members who lives at distant gathered at each house and celebrated for their new year together. In celebrating children’s new year, the custom called “otoshidama” gradually came to become common for the older people to give money to their children as the gift in order to wish for them to appreciate their lives in the new year. However, the original message contained in the custom was sadly lost and the only custom itself still remains in the tradition. When I was a child, I was always willing to receive it for just  my annual pocket money without knowing its original message.  We tend to forget something important in our daily lives. As you grew older, we can easily forget about each our life has been originally included in our family’s wish and love from the beginning of our lives and tend to get stuck in our narrow perspectives.

I can say that the new year might be the special opportunity for everyone to realize the preciousness of each our life in this world with each other.

“Hard is it to receive the human form. Now we have received it. Difficult is it to hear the Buddha-Dharma. Now we hear it. If we do not receive awakening in this life, in what life shall we do do?”

At the beginning of the new year, I would like to share the joy of being born in the human life, encountering the teaching of Buddhism and living my life here and now with everyone.