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Shrimp(えび) is written several different ways in Japanese. For example, there are the words commonly used in Chinese: 蝦 and 鰕. There is also a compound specific to Japan, 海老, and a kokuji, 蛯. Both of the latter contain the character for old age, 老. Is there some reason why the Japanese associate shrimp with old age?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

The Japanese Wikipedia page for エビ says the following:

漢字表記の「海老」や「蛯」の字は曲がった腰を老人に見立てたものである。

Apparently the use of 老 comes from the way shrimp bend forward, like an old person bending forward at the waist.

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Ah, I was just typing the same answer. +1 (The part before that about the relation to grapes is also interesting). –  Jesse Good Mar 18 '13 at 22:08
    
Hmm, you both beat me to it. –  istrasci Mar 18 '13 at 22:13
    
I heard it was because of their whiskers, that supposedly resemble old men's moustaches. Either way, it comes down to a likeness in appearance. –  Frishert Mar 20 '13 at 9:17
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