Since the Meiji Restoration
, the Japanese calendar
effectively identical to the Western one. The
Japanese traditional calendar
would also make an interesting node,
but as it is entirely obsolete
, I will limit myself to the
modern system -- as you are about to find out, there is more
than enough to the art of reading and writing Japanese dates as it is...
As in addresses, Japanese dates are
sorted from largest unit to smallest, in the order year/month/date,
with slash and period used pretty much randomly to separate
the units. Thus, December 7, 2001 would be written 2001.12.7,
or 2001年12月7日 in Japanese characters. The character
representing the day of the week is often tagged on at the
end in parentheses, as in 2001年12月7日(金) for "Friday,
the 7th of December 2001".
Now let's take a detailed look at each element:
The one major holdover from the traditional system is the system
of using eras, corresponding to the Emperor's reign, for years.
While the Japanese are familiar with the Gregorian calendar
and use Western years (西暦, seireki) in all international
and some official correspondance, the Imperial system remains
ubiquitous in Japan itself.
The way the system works is that upon ascending to the throne,
the new Emperor's era is given a name. The current era,
which started in 1989, is Heisei (平成).
The first year of an era is called gannen
(元年), which means "initial year", and after that the
years simply count up. The Imperial year is synchronized to the
Gregorian calendar, so subsequent years of a reign start on January 1st.
Thus 2001 is Heisei 13-nen (平成13年),
"the thirteenth year of Heisei", read Heisei jûsannen in
Japanese. Note that Chinese numbers are always used,
see Japanese numbers and counting for the gory details.
It is also not uncommon to see these years as numbers
alone, eg. an expiration date of
"13/12/11" means December 11th, Heisei 13 -- and yes, this
can be confusing sometimes.
One slightly confusing bit: the new era starts immediately on
the new Emperor's ascension, so 1989 is known both as Showa 64
and Heisei 1. Technically, Showa 64 is the bit before the
Emperor's death and Heisei 1 the bit after, but in practice the
two are synonymous. After his death the Emperor is referred to by the
name of his reign, so the current emperor is just tennô heika,
"the Emperor", but Hirohito is known by the Japanese as Shôwa
tennô, "the Showa Emperor".
The names of the four eras after the Meiji Restoration are in
common use. They are:
The era names are effectively meaningless
, which is why memorizing
all 247 of them is not expected even for the Japanese; the pre-Meiji ones do not even
necessarily match the emperor's name. In modern Japanese documents,
any reference to dates in the pre-Meiji era will include both
the imperial year and its Gregorian equivalent.
Finally, note that Imperial dates are used to refer to the
future, eg. Eidan expects to complete Line 15 of the Tokyo subway
by the nineteeth year of Heisei (2007). Dates more than a decade
in the future do tend to be written in Gregorian years though.
* Cut it with the AYB jokes already and go read about
what the Emperor of Great Justice did in Manchukuo instead,
Months are considerably easier: they consist of the Chinese number
with the suffix -gatsu (月, "moon") tacked on. The full
1 January ichigatsu
2 February nigatsu
3 March sangatsu
4 April shigatsu
5 May gogatsu
6 June rokugatsu
7 July shichigatsu
8 August hachigatsu
9 September kugatsu
10 October jûgatsu
11 November jûichigatsu
12 December jûnigatsu
The only exception
is September's kugatsu
instead of the
expected *kyûgatsu. Even April and July stay as shi
, instead of being yon
are in almost everything else due to superstition.
Writing days is easy, just tack the kanji for "sun" (日) onto
the numerals. Reading them, on the other hand, is a real mess.
The basic rule is that the first ten days are counted with
Japanese readings, with the suffix being -ka, and the rest
with Chinese readings, the suffix being -nichi, but there
are more exceptions. The full list with exceptions in bold
goes like this:
2 futsuka (futatsu)
3 mikka (mittsu)
4 yokka (yottsu)
5 itsuka (itsutsu)
6 muika (muttsu)
7 nanoka (nanatsu)
8 yôka (yattsu)
9 kokonoka (kokonotsu)
10 tôka (tô)
Let's take a breather here -- as you can see, the dates are
derived from the Japanese numerals with -ka
, but there are still plenty of bizarre
and this list pretty much has to be memorized. The rest is easier,
following the Chinese numeral systematically
for day 11), except
being ancient Japanese for "20" and shi
"death" as well as "four", being avoided.
And finally, January 1st is known as ganjitsu
For the student of Japanese, this system is really a pain in the butt when e.g. arranging reservations
over the phone. Practice and practice it well.
Days of the week
The idea of a seven-day week was also instituted during the
Meiji Restoration, as previously the Japanese had been using a
six-day week (which still lives on in fortunetelling).
The days were taken from the traditional seven luminaries
(sun, moon and five planets) with the suffix -youbi
tacked on, in this order:
Monday getsuyôbi moon, Moon
Tuesday kayôbi fire, Mars
Wednesday suiyôbi water, Mercury
Thursday mokuyôbi wood, Jupiter
Friday kinyôbi gold, Venus
Saturday doyôbi ground, Earth
Sunday nichiyôbi sun, Sun
Interestingly enough, these correspond quite well with the planets
assigned to the various Roman
deities that form
the basis of the English weekdays, and this was probably taken
into account when assigning the order of the days. In
, the communists opted to drop such theist
and simply numbered their weekdays instead.
Putting it all together
A few examples:
Sunday, December 9th 2001
Heisei jûsannen jûnigatsu kokonoka (nichiyôbi)
Thursday, September 1st 1977
Showa gojûninen kugatsu tsuitachi (mokuyôbi)
And a bow to sekicho for comments.