There are some distinctive customs about age in Korea. One of them is based on the year, not on the date of birth, the standard of determining one’s age. Most countries determine age based on the date of birth. This is called the ‘American age.’ In Korea, all Koreans are one year older on the 1st of January, regardless of when they were born. This calculation method is not used in other countries, so foreigners call it ‘Korean age.’ This ‘Korean age’ method originated in China before modern times and was used in the Chinese character cultural sphere, in places such as Korea, China, Japan, and Vietnam. However, no other countries officially employ this calculation method except South Korea. In China and Japan, the names ‘Susui’(empty age) and ‘Kazoedoshi’(year of counting) remain respectively. However, China adopted the American age only after ‘the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,’ and Japan also legally established the American age system after ‘the Meiji Restoration’ in 1873. Even North Korea began using American age after 1986. Also Korea started to legalize the American age in 1962, but this system has not settled in. The practice of using one’s Korean age results in a lot of inconvenience and expense when publishing official documents.
In addition to this, there is a custom called ‘early birthday.’ This is a custom, to be exact, which originated from a legal system. It was established in 1949 under the Education Act when the U.S. military was in charge of the country. Although the law was abolished in 2007, it has remained as a kind of custom since it has been around for such a long time. More specifically, children born in January or February can enter schools with those born in the previous year if they want to. There are also early birthdays in the United States, Russia, Europe, and so on. However, this does not cause a problem because the grades and the age are not important for them when they make friends. They don’t care much about their grades.
In Korea, the culture of age was solidified by the Confucian culture and military culture. For other countries with this custom, there is no conflict because age is not important for them. However, in Korea, it is a habit to establish a relationship at a first meeting by asking age, school, and hometowns. In the past, it didn’t cause a problem as the administration was poorly managed, and people didn’t know exactly how old they were. As time goes on, however, it is becoming increasingly more necessary to manage and enforce this from a logistic and legal standpoint. Also, we should try to eliminate the custom of causing these confusions and pay attention to eliminating the hierarchical culture of making rank by age.