SEOUL, Jan. 9 (Korea Bizwire) — South Koreans are increasingly having discussions over their unique way of calculating age, which has met as much curiosity as the confusion it has generated.
Known as East Asian age reckoning, many Asian countries used to follow the practice of understanding age one as the starting point of life.
While China, where the tradition originated, Japan and even North Korea officially did away with the traditional system in an effort to embrace the modern age system, South Korea stuck with it and essentially became the only Asian country where the old age calculating system is still practiced and culturally prevails even to date.
People from different cultures who first encounter the so-called Korean age often express interest in its novelty, prompting several YouTubers and K-pop-focused websites to give extensive coverage to the unique age system, under which one can experience an age gap of up to two years in some cases.
However, South Koreans, particularly younger generations, are experiencing difficulties switching back and forth between the western age system and Korean Age, and they have taken the issue to the internet where discussions are being had over the pros and cons of the traditional age system.
Cho, a 24-year-old, believes the two coexisting systems cause confusion.
“It gets confusing to figure out which system counts when official matters are concerned such as voting rights or the age of majority,” said Cho
It’s worth noting that for official documents, the South Korean government does recognize the modern age system as stated in Clause 158 of the civil law. But the wide usage of the old system is still strongly preferred throughout South Korean society, with the military service law and the Juvenile Protection Act also using Korean age on account of unity, efficiency and easier policy enforcement.
“Every time I speak to friends from different countries, I have to recalculate my age for better understanding. (When explained) most people find it hard to understand the logic behind everyone collectively getting one year older on New Year’s Day.
Amid growing confusion and inconvenience felt by many South Koreans, Naver began an online age converter, which replaces people’s Korean age with the modern age used in the rest of the world.
Even an online petition against the old age system was filed on the official website of the Blue House last November, attracting over 3,600 signatures.
The poster behind the online petition called on the government to abolish Korean age and adopt the modern age system in all aspects of society.
In a more critical tone, the petitioner slammed the Korean way of counting the age as ‘illogical’ and ‘unscientific’, while citing more practical problems such as confusion experienced while using public services abroad.
Though in the minority, some hope to see the unique age system embraced and retained for the future.
“In South Korean society where titles heavily depend on one’s age, with terms like ‘dongap’ ‘dongsaeng’, ‘hyung’ and ‘nuna’, for instance, abolishing Korean age will cause more confusion, whether it’s good or bad,” one advocate said in an online comment.
“Though inconvenient, it’s our culture after all, and I believe changing the age system could cause chaos,” another poster said.
Experts believe backlash to the idea of changing the system stems primarily from reluctance to accept something that is new.
“There is support for the idea of calculating the time spent in the womb, as well as opposition to changing old customs, and both seem to play a role,” said Lee Chang-won, a professor at Hansung University.
According to a poll conducted by Realmeter in 2016, 46.8 percent of the respondents wished to maintain the traditional age system, while 44 percent were in favor of ditching the use of Korean age and fully embracing the modern age system.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)