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East Asian age reckoning is a concept and practice that originated in China and is widely used by other cultures in East Asia. Newborns start at one year old, and at the beginning of lichun (usually February 4th, sometimes February 5th) which is the first of the 24 solar terms, one year is added to the person's age. In other words, the first year of life is counted as one instead of zero, so that a person is two years old in his or her second year, three years old in his or her third, and so on. Since age is incremented on the beginning of solar term rather than on a birthday, people may be one or two years older in Asian reckoning than in the Western system.
The system is also widely used by South Koreans, with the exception of the legal system. However the current age reckoning system currently in use among Koreans is one based on a misconception regarding the system, arising from confounding the beginning of the year. The East Asian age reckoning system had always followed the East Asian solar calendar (the 24 solar terms, as opposed to the 12 months of the Gregorian calendar). But sometime after Koreans begin to use the Gregorian calendar, Koreans began to believe that their age changed on the first day of the first month of the 12 months of the Gregorian calendar, forgetting that a proper calculation of the age would of course requires the East Asian calendar. As a result, today, almost all Koreans believe that their age changes in the 1st day of the 1st month on Western solar calendar (Gregorian Calendar), whereas the truth is, the age changes on the first day of lichun, which is the first solar term of the 24 solar terms, which usually falls some time on 4th of February, though sometimes it falls on the 5th as well.
Because the Korean school calendar starts at March 2nd, for a long time, March 2nd was the age cut off, so that those born before March 2nd went into the same grade as the ones born the year before. However, because of the misconception that the age changes on January 1st having spread so wide, some people protested that even their age is the same as those before March 2nd, they have to pay deferential respect to them because they are in one level higher grade, so that they have to use the proper Korean honorifics and call them "hyung" or "noona" as is proper.
As a result, even though schools still starts at March 2nd, they made the age cut off at January 1st, to reflect the popular sentiment that age changes at that date. It is also a very common misconception among Koreans that the Chinese zodiac changes on January 1st. Some people believe that Chinese zodiac changes on the Lunar New Year. But Chinese zodiac and age is not separate and both changes on the 1st day of lichun. To truly make set the date properly, they probably should change the limit to February 4th, so that the age, Chineze zodiac, and grade is not separate.
It is also a common misconception that the age is changed in the Lunar new year, which can't be true because there is too much variations in the start of the year in the lunar new year. There were two new years celebrated in East Asia. One was according to the Lunar calendar, and another was according to the solar calendar (24 solar terms), and it was on the latter that both the Chinese zodiac and age changed.
In either the traditional or modern age system, the word sui (traditional Chinese: 歲; simplified Chinese: 岁; 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).
When a child has survived one month of life (29 days if lunar month reckoning) a muen yuet (Chinese: 滿月; pinyin: mǎnyuè) celebration can be observed in which duck or chicken eggs dyed red are distributed to guests to signify fertility.
Japanese uses the word sai (歳 or 才) 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, 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.
Today the traditional system is mainly used by the elderly. Elsewhere its use is limited to traditional ceremonies, divinations, and obituaries.[original research?]
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.
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, even though every Korean gains one 'sal' on New Year's Day. Because the first year comes at birth and the second on the first day of the lunar New Year, a child born, for example, on December 29 (of the lunar calendar) will reach two years of age on Seollal (Korean New Year), when they are only days old in western reckoning.
In modern Korea the traditional system is most often used. The international age system is referred to as "man-nai" (만나이) in which "man" (만) means "full" or "actual", and "nai" (나이) meaning "age". 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.
The Korean Birthday Celebrations 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.
For official government uses, documents, and legal procedures, a chronological age system is used akin to the system used in Western countries. Regulations regarding age limits on beginning school, on alcohol and tobacco use, as well as the age of consent, are all based on a chronological system (man-nai).