Kajimayaa: A celebration of longevity, childhood on Okinawa

Kajimayaa: A celebration of longevity, childhood on Okinawa

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Japan

In Japan, getting older is a celebration. In the tradition known as Toshiiwai, elders are celebrated as they reach age milestones.

Kanreki is usually the first of such Toshiiwai and marks a person’s 61st birthyear milestone. Next, koki is for the 70th birthyear, kiju for the 77th, sanju for the 80th, beijyu for 88th, sotsujyu for the 90th, hakuju for the 99th, and hyakuju for the 100th.

The count for these milestones is done by kazoedoshi, the traditional Japanese way. For instance, the kazoedoshi way assumes that a baby is in their first year as soon as they are born.  

In Okinawa, Toshiiwai is called Tooshibii and is celebrated every 12 years of a person’s life. Tooshibii is not just a celebration of elders. This tradition celebrates those who are in their 13th, 25th, 37th, 49th, 61st, 73nd, 85th, and 97th birth years.

Kajimayaa is the name for the 97th year Tooshibii and is a very special celebration. The word means pinwheel in Okinawan dialect and was chosen because of the idea that people relive their childhood when they reach that stage of life. Pinwheels are given to those elders who have reached their 97th birthyear to mark their longevity and to give them an item they used to play with as children.

The concept of returning to childhood is part of Japanese Toshiiwai years as well.

For kanreki, the celebration of the 61st, elders are thought to be born again. It is based upon the concept of “eto” symbols in the Chinese Zodiac, which consist of 12 creatures and cycles every 12 years. For example, if you are born in a Year of the Dragon, the same symbol will come around when you reach your 61st year (for the fifth time). Theoretically, then is when you start a new cycle of life.

To celebrate their new life, chanchanko, a padded sleeveless kimono jacket, and zukin, a hood are commonly presented to the elders as gifts. Both of the items should be in red for this tradition because the color is supposed to bring good luck and repel evil spirits.

These days, kanreki is celebrated in Okinawa as well. But “kajimayaa” is still the biggest longevity celebration on the island. One of the reasons why it is special is that the celebration involves not just families and relatives but also local communities.

On or around Sept. 7 of the lunar calendar, parades take place in local communities where those who are in their 97th year ride in open cars with a pinwheel in their hands. Folks in the neighborhood march together in traditional attire following the car, just like a part of an Eisa Festival. Since this is a unique tradition of Okinawa, kajimayaa is often covered by the media. Pinwheels are often handed out to participants as well.

This year Sept. 7 in the lunar calendar falls on Oct. 21 in the Gregorian calendar.

This year, more kajimayaa parades are expected to take place with the COVID-19 restrictions coming to be lifted finally. If you happen to see elders with a pinwheel in their hands waving at you from the seats of an open car, please smile and wave back at them. Their smiles are a reminder of the joys of longevity and the fun of being a kid again.


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