Japanese Calendar
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Japanese Calendar

1729 calendar, which used the J?ky? calendar procedure, published by Ise Grand Shrine

Japanese calendar types have included a range of official and unofficial systems. At present, Japan uses the Gregorian calendar together with year designations stating the year of the reign of the current Emperor.[1] The written form starts with the year, then the month and finally the day, coinciding with the ISO 8601 standard. For example, February 16, 2003 can be written as either 2003?2?16? or 15?2?16? (the latter following the regnal year system). ? reads nen and means "year", ? reads gatsu and means "month" and finally ? (usually) reads nichi (its pronunciation depends on the number that precedes it, see below) and means "day".

Prior to the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1873, the reference calendar was based on the lunisolar Chinese calendar.


Japanese Calendar (woodcut, 1867)

The lunisolar Chinese calendar was introduced to Japan via Korea in the middle of the sixth century. After that, Japan calculated its calendar using various Chinese calendar procedures, and from 1685, using Japanese variations of the Chinese procedures. But in 1873, as part of Japan's Meiji period modernization, a calendar based on the solar Gregorian calendar was introduced.[2] In Japan today, the old Chinese calendar is virtually ignored; celebrations of the Lunar New Year are thus limited to Chinese and other Asian immigrant communities.

Japan has had more than one system for designating years.[3] including:

  • The Chinese sexagenary cycle was introduced early into Japan.[4] It was often used together with era names, as in the 1729 Ise calendar shown above, which is for "the 14th year of Ky?h?, tsuchi-no-to no tori", i.e., . Now, though, the cycle is seldom used except around New Year.
  • The era name (, geng?) system was also introduced from China, and has been in continuous use since AD 701.[5] Since the Taish? Emperor's ascension in 1912, each emperor's reign has begun a new era; before 1868 era names were often also declared for other reasons.[6] Neng? are the official means of dating years in Japan, and virtually all government business is conducted using that system. It is also in general use in private and personal business.
  • The Japanese imperial year (, k?ki, or kigen) is based on the date of the legendary founding of Japan by Emperor Jimmu in 660 BC.[7] It was first used in the official calendar in 1873.[8] However, it never replaced era names, and since World War II has been abandoned.[9]
  • The Western Common Era (Anno Domini) (, seireki) system has gradually come into common use since the Meiji period.[10] Nowadays, Japanese people know it as well as the regnal eras.

Official calendar


The official dating system known as neng? () (or, strictly speaking, geng? ()), has been in use since the late 7th century. Years are numbered within regnal eras, which are named by the reigning Emperor. Beginning with Meiji (1868-1912), each reign has been one era, but many earlier Emperors decreed a new era upon any major event; the last pre-Meiji Emperor's reign (1846-1867) was split into seven eras, one of which lasted only one year. The neng? system remains in wide use, especially on official documents and government forms.[11]

The imperial year system (k?ki) was used from 1872 to the Second World War. Imperial year 1 (K?ki 1) was the year when the legendary Emperor Jimmu founded Japan - 660 BC according to the Gregorian Calendar. Usage of k?ki dating can be a nationalist signal, pointing out that the history of Japan's imperial family is longer than that of Christianity, the basis of the Anno Domini (AD) system. K?ki 2600 (1940) was a special year. The 1940 Summer Olympics and Tokyo Expo were planned as anniversary events, but were canceled due to the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese naval Zero Fighter was named after this year. After the Second World War, the United States occupied Japan, and stopped the use of k?ki by officials. Today, k?ki is rarely used, except in some judicial contexts.

The 1898 law determining the placement of leap years[12] is officially based on the k?ki years, using a formula that is effectively equivalent to that of the Gregorian calendar: if the k?ki year number is evenly divisible by four, it is a leap year, unless the number minus 660 is evenly divisible by 100 and not by 400. Thus, for example, the year K?ki 2560 (AD 1900) is divisible by 4; but 2560 - 660 = 1900, which is evenly divisible by 100 and not by 400, so k?ki 2560 was not a leap year, just as in most of the rest of the world.

The present era, Reiwa, formally began on 1 May 2019. The name of the new era was announced by the Japanese government on 1 April 2019, a month prior to Naruhito's succession to the throne. The previous era, Heisei, came to an end on 30 April 2019, after Japan's former emperor, Akihito, abdicated the throne. Reiwa is the first era name whose characters come from a Japanese root source; prior eras' names were taken from Chinese classic literature.


English name Japanese name Romanisation Traditional dates
Spring ? haru February 5 - May 6
Summer ? natsu May 7 - August 8
Autumn ? aki August 9 - November 7
Winter ? fuyu November 8 - February 4

See also "Seasonal days", below.


This mural on the wall of Shin-Ochanomizu subway station in Tokyo celebrates Hazuki, the eighth month.

The modern Japanese names for the months literally translate to "first month", "second month", and so on. The corresponding number is combined with the suffix ? (-gatsu, "month"). The table below uses traditional numerals, but the use of Western numerals (1?, 2?, 3? etc.) is common.

In addition, every month has a traditional name, still used by some in fields such as poetry; of the twelve, Shiwasu is still widely used today. The opening paragraph of a letter or the greeting in a speech might borrow one of these names to convey a sense of the season. Some, such as Yayoi and Satsuki, do double duty as given names (for women). These month names also appear from time to time on jidaigeki, contemporary television shows and movies set in the Edo period or earlier.

The old Japanese calendar was an adjusted lunar calendar based on the Chinese calendar, and the year--and with it the months--started anywhere from about 3 to 7 weeks later than the modern year, so in historical contexts it is not entirely accurate to equate the first month with January.

English name Common Japanese name Traditional Japanese name
January (ichigatsu) Mutsuki (, "Month of Love," alternatively "Month of Affection").[13]
February (nigatsu) Kisaragi () or Kinusaragi (, "Changing Clothes").[13]
March (sangatsu) Yayoi (, "New Life").[13]
April (shigatsu) Uzuki (, "u-no-hana month").[13] The u-no-hana () is a flower, of the genus Deutzia.[14]
May (gogatsu) Satsuki () or Sanaetsuki (, "Early-rice-planting Month").[13]
June Minazuki (, "Month of Water"). The ? character, which normally means "absent" or "there is no", is ateji here, and is only used for the na sound. In this name the na is actually a possessive particle, so minazuki means "month of water", not "month without water", and this is in reference to the flooding of the rice fields, which require large quantities of water.[15]
July Fumizuki (, "Month of Erudition").[13]
August Hazuki (, "Month of Leaves"). In old Japanese, the month was called ? (Haochizuki, or "Month of Falling Leaves").[13]
September (kugatsu) Nagatsuki (, "The Long Month").[13]
October (j?gatsu) Kannazuki or Kaminazuki (, Month of the Gods). The ? character, which normally means "absent" or "there is not", was here probably originally used as ateji, that is used only for the sound "na". In this name the na is actually a possessive particle, so Kaminazuki means "Month of the Gods", not "Month without Gods" (Kaminakizuki), similarly to Minatsuki, the "Month of Water".[16] However, by false etymology this became commonly interpreted to mean that because in that month all the Shinto kami gather at Izumo shrine in Izumo Province (modern-day Shimane Prefecture), there are no gods in the rest of the country. Thus in Izumo Province, the month is called Kamiarizuki ( or , "Month with Gods"). This interpretation is the one commonly cited in western works.[17] Various other etymologies have also been suggested from time to time.[18]
November Shimotsuki (, "Month of Frost").[13]
December (j?nigatsu) Shiwasu (, "Priests Running"). This is in reference to priests being busy at the end of the year for New Year's preparations and blessings.[13]

Subdivisions of the month

Japan uses a seven-day week, aligned with the Western calendar. The seven-day week, with names for the days corresponding to the Latin system, was brought to Japan around AD 800 with the Buddhist calendar. The system was used for astrological purposes and little else until 1876.

Much like in multiple European languages, in which the names for weekdays are, partially or fully, based on what the Ancient Romans considered the seven visible planets, meaning the five visible planets and the sun and the moon, in The Far East the five visible planets are named after the five Chinese elements (metal, wood, water, fire, earth.) On the origin of the names of the days of the week, also see East Asian Seven Luminaries.

Japanese Romanization Element (planet) English name
nichiy?bi Sun Sunday
getsuy?bi Moon Monday
kay?bi Fire (Mars) Tuesday
suiy?bi Water (Mercury) Wednesday
mokuy?bi Wood (Jupiter) Thursday
kin'y?bi Metal (Venus) Friday
doy?bi Earth (Saturn) Saturday

Sunday and Saturday are regarded as "Western style take-a-rest days". Since the late 19th century, Sunday has been regarded as a "full-time holiday", and Saturday a half-time holiday (). These holidays have no religious meaning (except those who believe in Christianity or Judaism). Many Japanese retailers do not close on Saturdays or Sundays, because many office workers and their families are expected to visit the shops during the weekend. An old Imperial Japanese Navy song (?) says "Mon Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Fri!" which means "We work throughout the entire week."

Japanese people also use 10-day periods called jun (?). Each month is divided into two 10-day periods and a third with the remaining 8 to 11 days:

  • The first (from the 1st to the 10th) is j?jun (, upper jun)
  • The second (from the 11th to the 20th), ch?jun (, middle jun)
  • The last (from the 21st to the end of the month), gejun (, lower jun).[19]

These are frequently used to indicate approximate times, for example, "the temperatures are typical of the j?jun of April"; "a vote on a bill is expected during the gejun of this month." The magazine Kinema Junpo was originally published once every jun (i.e. three times a month).[20]

Days of the month

Each day of the month has a semi-systematic name. The days generally use kun (native Japanese) numeral readings up to ten, and thereafter on (Chinese-derived) readings, but there are some irregularities. The table below shows dates written with traditional numerals, but use of Arabic numerals (1?, 2?, 3?, etc.) is extremely common in everyday communication, almost the norm.

Day number Japanese name Romanisation
1 tsuitachi
2 futsuka
3 mikka
4 yokka
5 itsuka
6 muika
7 nanoka
8 y?ka
9 kokonoka
10 t?ka
11 j?ichi-nichi
12 j?ni-nichi
13 j?san-nichi
14 j?yokka
15 j?go-nichi
Day number Japanese name Romanisation
16 j?roku-nichi
17 j?shichi-nichi
18 j?hachi-nichi
19 j?ky?-nichi
20 hatsuka
21 nij?ichi-nichi
22 ? nij?ni-nichi
23 ? nij?san-nichi
24 ? nij?yokka
25 ? nij?go-nichi
26 ? nij?roku-nichi
27 ? nij?shichi-nichi
28 ? nij?hachi-nichi
29 ? nij?ky?-nichi
30 sanj?-nichi
31 ? sanj?ichi-nichi

Tsuitachi is a worn-down form of tsuki-tachi (), which means "the month beginning". The last day of the month was called tsugomori, which means "Moon hidden". This classical word comes from the tradition of the lunisolar calendar.

The 30th was also called misoka, just as the 20th is called hatsuka. Nowadays, the terms for the numbers 28-31 plus nichi are much more common. However, misoka is much used in contracts, etc., specifying that a payment should be made on or by the last day of the month, whatever the number is. New Year's Eve is known as ?misoka (, big 30th), and that term is still in use.

There is traditional belief that some days are lucky (kichijitsu) or unlucky. For example, there are some who will avoid beginning something on an unlucky day.[21]

National holidays

Koinobori, flags decorated like koi, are popular decorations around Children's Day

After World War II, the names of Japanese national holidays were completely changed because of the secular state principle (Article 20, The Constitution of Japan). Although many of them actually originated from Shinto, Buddhism and important events relating to the Japanese imperial family, it is not easy to understand the original meanings from the superficial and vague official names.

Notes: Single days between two national holidays are taken as a bank holiday. This applies to May 4, which is a holiday each year. When a national holiday falls on a Sunday the next day that is not a holiday (usually a Monday) is taken as a holiday.

Japanese national holidays
Date English name Official name Romanization
January 1 New Year's Day Ganjitsu
Second Monday of January Coming of Age Day ? Seijin no hi
February 11 National Foundation Day+ Kenkoku kinen no hi
February 23 The Emperor's Birthday Tenn? tanj?bi
March 20 or 21 Vernal Equinox Day ? Shunbun no hi
April 29 Sh?wa Day* ? Sh?wa no hi
May 3 Constitution Memorial Day* Kenp? kinenbi
May 4 Greenery Day* (?) Midori no hi
May 5 Children's Day* ? Kodomo no hi
Third Monday of July Marine Day Umi no hi
August 11 Mountain Day Yama no hi
Third Monday of September Respect for the Aged Day ? Keir? no hi
September 23 or 24 Autumnal Equinox Day ? Sh?bun no hi
Second Monday of October Health and Sports Day ? Taiiku no hi
November 3 Culture Day ? Bunka no hi
November 23 Labour Thanksgiving Day Kinr? kansha no hi
+ Traditional date on which according to legend Emperor Jimmu founded Japan in 660 BC.
* Part of Golden Week.

Timeline of changes to national holidays

  • 1948: The following national holidays were introduced: New Year's Day, Coming-of-Age Day, Constitution Memorial Day, Children's Day, Autumnal Equinox Day, Culture Day, Labour Thanksgiving Day.
  • 1966: Health and Sports Day was introduced in memory of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Vernal Equinox Day was also introduced.
  • 1985: Reform to the national holiday law made May 4, sandwiched between two other national holidays, also a holiday.
  • 1989: After the Sh?wa Emperor died on January 7, the Emperor's Birthday became December 23 and Greenery Day took the place of the former Emperor's birthday.
  • 2000, 2003: Happy Monday System (?, Happ? Mand? Seido) moved several holidays to Monday. Starting with 2000: Coming-of-Age Day (formerly January 15) and Health and Sports Day (formerly October 10). Starting with 2003: Marine Day (formerly July 20) and Respect for the Aged Day (formerly September 15).
  • 2005, 2007: According to a May 2005 decision, starting with 2007 Greenery Day will be moved from April 29 to May 4 replacing a generic national holiday (, kokumin no ky?jitsu) that existed after the 1985 reform, while April 29 will be known as Sh?wa Day.
  • 2009: September 22 may become sandwiched between two holidays, which would make this day a national holiday.[needs update]
  • 2014: Mountain Day established as a new holiday, to be observed starting 2016
  • 2019: Emperor's Birthday not celebrated. The final celebration of Emperor's Birthday during the Heisei era took place on December 23, 2018, the birthday of Akihito. After the start of the Reiwa era on 1 May 2019, the next celebration of Emperor's Birthday is expected to take place on or around 23 February 2020, the birthday of the reigning Emperor Naruhito (as Naruhito's birthday falls on a Sunday in 2020, the official public holiday is expected to be celebrated on Monday, 24 February 2020 instead).

Customary issues in modern Japan

Gregorian months and the "One-Month Delay"

In contrast to other East Asian countries such as China, Vietnam, Korea and Mongolia, Japan has almost completely forgotten the Chinese calendar. Since 1876, January has been officially regarded as the "first month" even when setting the date of Japanese traditional folklore events (other months are the same: February as the second month, March as the third, and so on). But this system often brings a strong seasonal sense of gap since the event is 3 to 7 weeks earlier than in the traditional calendar. Modern Japanese culture has invented a kind of "compromised" way of setting dates for festivals called Tsuki-okure ("One-Month Delay") or Ch?reki ("The Eclectic Calendar"). The festival is celebrated just one solar calendar month later than the date on the Gregorian calendar. For example, the Buddhist festival of Obon was the 15th day of the 7th month. Many places the religious services are held on July 15. However, in some areas, the rites are normally held on August 15, which is more seasonally close to the old calendar. (The general term "Obon holiday" always refers to the middle of August.) Although this is just de facto and customary, it is broadly used when setting the dates of many folklore events and religious festivals. But Japanese New Year is the great exception. The date of Japanese New Year is always January 1.

Seasonal days

Some days have special names to mark the change in seasons. The 24 sekki (Japanese: ; r?maji: nij?shi sekki) are days that divide the solar year into twenty four equal sections. Zassetsu () is a collective term for the seasonal days other than the 24 sekki. 72 K? (?, Shichij?ni k?) days are made from dividing the 24 sekki of a year further by three. These were named based upon the climate of Northern China, so many of the names do not fit in with the climate of Japanese archipelago. But some of these names, such as Shunbun, Rissh? and T?ji, are still used quite frequently in everyday life in Japan.

The 24 sekki

Dates can vary by one day either way.


Date Kanji Romaji Comment
February 3 Setsubun The eve of Risshun by one definition.
March 18-March 24 Haru higan The seven days surrounding Shunbun.
Vernal Equinox day Haru shanichi In Shinto. ? (Higan Chunichi) in Buddhism.
May 2 ? Hachij? hachiya Literally meaning 88 nights (since Risshun).
June 11 Ny?bai Literally meaning entering tsuyu.
July 2 Hangesh? One of the 72 K?. Farmers take five days off in some regions.
July 15 Ch?gen Officially July 15. August 15 in many regions (Tsuki-okure).
July 20 ? Natsu no doy? Custom of eating eel on this day.
September 1 ? Nihyaku t?ka Literally meaning 210 days (since Risshun).
September 11 Nihyaku hatsuka Literally meaning 220 days.
September 20-September 26 Aki higan  
Autumal Equinox Aki shanichi In Shinto. ? in Buddhism.

Shanichi dates can vary by as much as 5 days. Ch?gen has a fixed day. All other days can vary by one day.

Many zassetsu days occur in multiple seasons:

  • Setsubun () refers to the day before each season, or the eves of Risshun, Rikka, Rish?, and Ritt?; especially the eve of Risshun.
  • Doy? () refers to the 18 days before each season, especially the one before fall which is known as the hottest period of a year.
  • Higan () is the seven middle days of spring and autumn, with Shunbun at the middle of the seven days for spring, Sh?bun for fall.
  • Shanichi () is the Tsuchinoe (?) day closest to Shunbun (middle of spring) or Sh?bun (middle of fall), which can be as much as 5 days before to 4 days after Shunbun/Sh?bun.

Seasonal festivals

The following are known as the five seasonal festivals ( sekku, also gosekku). The sekku were made official holidays during Edo period on Chinese lunisolar calendar. The dates of these festivals are confused nowadays; some on the Gregorian calendar, others on "Tsuki-okure".

  1. 7th day of the 1st month: (Jinjitsu), (Nanakusa no sekku) held on 7 January
  2. 3rd day of the 3rd month: (J?shi), ? (Momo no sekku) held on 3 March in many areas, but in some area on 3 April
  3. 5th day of the 5th month: Tango (): mostly held on 5 May
  4. 7th day of the 7th month: (Shichiseki, Tanabata), (Hoshi matsuri ) held on 7 July in many areas, but in northern Japan held on 7 August (e.g. in Sendai)
  5. 9th day of the 9th month: (Ch?y?), ? (Kiku no sekku) almost out of vogue today

Not sekku:

  • January 1: Japanese New Year
  • August 15: Obon - the date is "Tsuki-okure". In central Tokyo Obon is held on July 15 (The local culture of Tokyo tends to dislike Tsuki-okure custom.[])
  • December 31: ?misoka


The rokuy? () are a series of six days calculated from the date of Chinese calendar that supposedly predict whether there will be good or bad fortune during that day. The rokuy? are commonly found on Japanese calendars and are often used to plan weddings and funerals, though most people ignore them in ordinary life. The rokuy? are also known as the rokki (). In order, they are:

Kanji Romanization Meaning
Sensh? Good luck before noon, bad luck after noon. Good day for beginnings (in the morning).
Tomobiki Your friends may be "drawn-in" towards good and evil. Funerals are avoided on this day (tomo = friend, biki = pull, thus a funeral might pull friends toward the deceased). Typically crematoriums are closed this day. But, for instance, weddings are fine on this day.
Senbu Bad luck before noon, good luck after noon.
Butsumetsu Symbolizes the day Buddha died. Considered the most unlucky day.[] Weddings are best avoided. Some Shinto shrines close their offices on this day.
Taian The most lucky day. Good day for weddings and events like shop openings.
Shakk? The hour of the horse (11 am to 1 pm) is lucky. The rest is bad luck.

The rokuy? days are easily calculated from the Japanese lunisolar calendar. The first day of the first month is always sensh?, with the days following in the order given above until the end of the month. Thus, the 2nd day is tomobiki, the 3rd is senbu, and so on. The 1st day of the 2nd month restarts the sequence at tomobiki. The 3rd month restarts at senbu, and so on for each month. The latter six months repeat the patterns of the first six, so the 1st of the 7th is sensh?, the 1st of the 12th is shakk? and the moon-viewing day on the 15th of the 8th is always butsumetsu.

This system did not become popular in Japan until the end of the Edo period.

April 1

The first day of April has broad significance in Japan. It marks the beginning of the government's fiscal year.[22] Many corporations follow suit. In addition, corporations often form or merge on that date. In recent years, municipalities have preferred it for mergers. On this date, many new employees begin their jobs, and it is the start of many real-estate leases. The school year begins on April 1.

See also


  1. ^ "Calendar" at Japan-guide.com; Bramsen, William. (1880). Japanese chronological tables, p. 25.
  2. ^ See the page on the history of the calendar at the National Diet Library site: [1].
  3. ^ Clement, Ernest W. (1902). "Japanese Calendars", in Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Vol. 30-31, p. 3,
  4. ^ Bramsen, pp. 5-11.
  5. ^ Bramsen, pp. 2-5.
  6. ^ See list of neng? with the reasons for the changes in Rekishi Dokuhon, January 2008 ("Nihon no Nengo Tokushuu"), pp. 196-221.
  7. ^ Bramsen, p. 11.
  8. ^ See "2533 years since Jinmu's accession" in the heading [2] Archived January 22, 2013, at the Wayback Machine"
  9. ^ "kigen" in Kokushi Daijiten, vol. 4 (Yoshikawa Kôbunkan, 1983).
  10. ^ Bramsen, p. 25.
  11. ^ "Understanding The Ways That Japan Tells Time". Tofugu.com. July 15, 2014.
  12. ^ ? (Japanese Imperial Edict No. 90, May 11, 1898)
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Can you tell me the old names of the months?". About.com. Retrieved 2011.[ About.com, Can you tell me the old names of the months?]
  14. ^ "? - - goo" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2011.
  15. ^ " - - goo" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2011.
  16. ^ Entries in the standard dictionaries Daijisen (Sh?gakukan ), Daijirin (Sanseid? ), Nihon Kokugo Daijiten ? (Sh?gakukan ).
  17. ^ For example, Ian Reader and George J. Tanabe Jr. (1998). Practically Religious: Worldly Benefits and the Common Religion of Japan. University of Hawaii Press. p. 178. ISBN 0-8248-2090-8.
  18. ^ The Nihon Kokugo Daijiten ? (Sh?gakukan ) lists nine more besides.
  19. ^ Lehtonen, Erynn (February 12, 2019). "Spirit of the Dragon". Erynn Lehtonen via PublishDrive – via Google Books.
  20. ^ Miyao, Daisuke (July 12, 2014). The Oxford Handbook of Japanese Cinema. OUP USA. ISBN 9780199731664 – via Google Books.
  21. ^ Nussbaum, "Kichijitsu" at p. 513.
  22. ^ "THE JAPANESE FISCAL YEAR AND MISCELLANEOUS DATA" (PDF). Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences. 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 25, 2007. Retrieved 2007.

External links

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