In many Asian cultures one’s 60th birthday has special significance under the Asian zodiac system which includes both a cycle of 12 years – each with an animal associated with it (I’m a Rat) – and the relationship of 5 traditional elements (metal, wood, fire, water and Earth) with each of those years. As a result, a person’s 60th birthday – apart from being a good reason to celebrate for surviving! – marks the end of a 60-year cycle (12 x 5 = 60) and a symbolic rebirth – in effect a second childhood.
In Japan the 60th birthday is referred to as “kanreki” and the celebrant traditionally wears both a red beret-like cap (the “o-eboshi”) and a red vest (the “chanchanko”). I have read that the red color symbolizes that return to childhood - "aka-chan," literally "red one," meaning "baby" in Japanese.
On my 60th birthday last December – when Nancy arranged a wonderful surprise party for me – I coincidentally did wear a red vest to dinner, although my thoughts were more of the Christmas holiday season rather than of any zodiac significance. My Japanese friend, Masumi, recently learned of my sartorial oversight and somehow found an o-eboshi and chanchanko for me (needless to say, these are not typically stocked in most costume stores here in the US). So, although a bit belated, I have now managed to satisfy the more traditional Japanese requirements for kanreki celebrations!
Apart from the kanreki celebration at age 60, I have learned that in Japan they also celebrate a number of additional age milestones: koki (70 years old), kiju (77 years old), beiju (88 years old), sotsuju (90 years old), kajimaya (97 years old), hakuju (99 years old), and hyakusai no ga (100 years old), so I happily have more to look forward to!