Tanka (タンカー): means 1-year-old’s birthday (Japanese: 1才の誕生日)

Yu-eh(ユーエー): means celebration (Japanese:お祝い)

In Okinawa, some people celebrate a tradition called tanka-yu-eh タンカーユーエー, which has the meaning of a child’s first birthday. On this day, a ritual to predict child’s future is done! One of my student’s granddaughter recently celebrated her first birthday, so she shared this custom with me. Her granddaughter chose the abacus, so she will become good in business and very good at math.

A variety of things are placed before the child, such as an abacus, pen and ink, money, red rice, ruler and scissors (in the case of girls). Each item has a meaning, so whichever item the child chooses, is a prediction for their future.

book: scholar, good grades
abacus: good in business
brush and ink: become an official, government worker
money: become rich
red rice: will never go hungry
ruler/scissors: good at sewing

Some families will include other more “modern” items (like a ball for athlete, instrument for musician, etc) as well, or use a calculator instead of an abacus.

It is strictly for fun, and not so serious, just to hope for the happiness of the child’s healthy growth and a chance to gather family. This custom is similar to ones in Korea and elsewhere in Asia.

Old-fashioned set for tanka-yu-eh

Let us know what you think!