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. 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. including
- The Chinese sexagenary cycle was early introduced into Japan. It was often used together with era names, as in the 1729 Ise calendar shown above, which is for “the 14th year of Kyōhō, tsuchi-no-to no tori,” i.e., 己酉. Now, though, the cycle is seldom used except around New Year’s.
- The era name (年号, nengō?) system was also introduced from China, and has been in continuous use since 701 A.D. Era names were normally changed with each emperor, but they could be changed for other reasons, also. However, now eras are always changed at the start of a new reign, and only then. Nengō 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 (皇紀, kōki?) or kigen 紀元 is based on the date of the legendary founding of Japan by Emperor Jimmu in 660 BC. It was first used in the official calendar in 1873. However, it never replaced era names, and since World War II has been abandoned.
- The Western Common Era (Anno Domini) (西暦, seireki?) system has gradually come into common use since the Meiji period. Now, most people know it, as well as era names.
The imperial year system (kōki) was used from 1872 to the Second World War. Imperial year 1 (Kōki 1) was the year when the legendary Emperor Jimmu founded Japan – 660 BC according to the Gregorian Calendar. In terms of nationalism, kōki emphasizes the long history of Japan and the imperial family because it is a larger number than the Anno Domini year (AD). Kōki 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 aircraft Zero Fighter was named after this year. After the Second World War, the United States occupied Japan, and stopped the use of kōki by officials. Today, kōki is rarely used, except in some judicial contexts.
The 1898 law determining the placement of leap years is officially based on the kōki years: If the year count since the enthronement of Jinmu is evenly divisible by four, it is a leap year. However, among the years that are evenly divisible by 100 when 660 is subtracted from the beginning of the era (=kōki) year count
[i.e. getting the Anno
, if the quotient is not evenly divisible by four, then it is not a leap year.
So for example, the year Kōki 2560 (=1900 AD) is divisible by 4. However, 2560 minus 660 = 1900, which is evenly divisible by 100. However, 1900/100 = 19 is not evenly divisible by 4, so kōki 2560 was not a leap year, just as in most of the rest of the world.
Thus the leap years in Japan are the same as those of the Gregorian calendar.
|English name||Japanese name||Romanisation||Traditional dates|
|Spring||春||haru||5 February – 6 May|
|Summer||夏||natsu||7 May – 8 August|
|Autumn||秋||aki||9 August – 7 November|
|Winter||冬||fuyu||8 November – 4 February|
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 月 (-gatsu, “month”). The table below uses traditional numerals, but the use of Arabic numerals (１月, ２月, ３月 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||一月 (ichigatsu)||Mutsuki (睦月?, “Month of Affection”).|
|February||二月 (nigatsu)||Kisaragi (如月?) or Kinusaragi (衣更着?, “Changing Clothes”).|
|March||三月 (sangatsu)||Yayoi (弥生?, “New Life”).|
|April||四月 (shigatsu)||Uzuki (卯月?, “u-no-hana month”). The u-no-hana (卯の花) is a flower, of the genus Deutzia.|
|May||五月 (gogatsu)||Satsuki (皐月?) or Sanaetsuki (早苗月?, “Early-rice-planting Month”).|
|June||六月 (rokugatsu)||Minazuki[disambiguation needed] (水無月?, “Month of Water”). The 無 character, which normally means “absent” or “there is no”, is here ateji, that is, used only for the sound “na”. 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.|
|July||七月 (shichigatsu)||Fumizuki[disambiguation needed] (文月?, “Month of Books”).|
|August||八月 (hachigatsu)||Hazuki (葉月?, “Month of Leaves”). In old Japanese, the month was called 葉落ち月 (Haochizuki, or “Month of Falling Leaves”).|
|September||九月 (kugatsu)||Nagatsuki (長月?, “The Long Month”).|
|October||十月 (jūgatsu)||Kannazuki or Kaminazuki (神無月, “Month of the Gods”). The 無 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”. However, by false etymology this became commonly interpreted to mean that because in that month all the Shinto kami gather at Izumo Shrine 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 (神有月 or 神在月?, “Month with Gods”). This interpretation is the one commonly cited in western works. Various other etymologies have also been suggested from time to time.|
|November||十一月 (jūichigatsu)||Shimotsuki (霜月?, “Month of Frost”).|
|December||十二月 (jūnigatsu)||Shiwasu (師走?, “Priests Running”). This is in reference to priests being busy at the end of the year for New Year’s preparations and blessings.|
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.
The names of the days come from the five visible planets, which in turn are named after the five Chinese elements (metal, wood, water, fire, earth), and from the moon and sun (yin and yang). On the origin of the names of the days of the week, also see East Asian Seven Luminaries.
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 (半ドン)”. These holidays have no religious meaning (except those who believe 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 “We have neither Sundays nor Saturdays!” which means “We work throughout the week.”
Japanese people also use 10-day periods called Jun (旬). Each month is divided roughly into three 10-day periods. The first (from 1st to 10th) is jōjun (上旬 “upper Jun”); the second (from 11th to 20th), chūjun (中旬 “middle Jun”); the last (from 21st to 31st), gejun (下旬 “bottom Jun” ). These are frequently used to indicate approximate times, for example, “the temperatures are typical of the jōjun of April”; “a vote on a bill is expected during the gejun of this month.”
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日, ２日, ３日, etc.) is extremely common in everyday communication, almost the norm.
|Day number Japanese name Romanisation 1 一日 tsuitachi (can also be read as ichinichi, especially in legal or business use) 2 二日 futsuka 3 三日 mikka 4 四日 yokka 5 五日 itsuka 6 六日 muika 7 七日 nanoka 8 八日 yōka 9 九日 kokonoka 10 十日 tōka 11 十一日 jūichi-nichi 12 十二日 jūni-nichi 13 十三日 jūsan-nichi 14 十四日 jūyokka/jūyon-nichi 15 十五日 jūgo-nichi||Day number Japanese name Romanisation 16 十六日 jūroku-nichi 17 十七日 jūshichi-nichi 18 十八日 jūyōka/jūhachi-nichi 19 十九日 jūku-nichi 20 二十日 hatsuka 21 二十一日 nijūichi-nichi 22 二十二日 nijūni-nichi 23 二十三日 nijūsan-nichi 24 二十四日 nijūyokka/nijūyon-nichi 25 二十五日 nijūgo-nichi 26 二十六日 nijūroku-nichi 27 二十七日 nijūshichi-nichi 28 二十八日 nijūyōka/nijūhachi-nichi 29 二十九日 nijūku-nichi 30 三十日 sanjū-nichi 31 三十一日 sanjūichi-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 day of the month was also called misoka, just as the 20th day 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. The last day of the year is 大晦日 ōmisoka (“big 30th day”), 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.
Koinobori, flags decorated like koi, are popular decorations around Children’s Day
Main article: Holidays of Japan
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.
|Date||English name||Official name||Romanization|
|January 1||New Year’s Day||元日||Ganjitsu|
|2nd Monday of January||Coming of Age Day||成人の日||Seijin no hi|
|February 11||National Foundation Day†||建国記念の日||Kenkoku kinen no hi|
|March 20 or March 21||Vernal Equinox Day||春分の日||Shunbun no hi|
|April 29||Shōwa Day*||昭和の日||Shōwa no hi|
|May 3||Constitution Memorial Day*||憲法記念日||Kenpō kinenbi|
|May 4||Greenery Day*||みどり(緑)の日||Midori no hi|
|May 5||Children’s Day*||子供の日||Kodomo no hi|
|3rd Monday of July||Marine Day||海の日||Umi no hi|
|3rd Monday of September||Respect for the Aged Day||敬老の日||Keirō no hi|
|September 23 or September 24||Autumnal Equinox Day||秋分の日||Shūbun no hi|
|2nd Monday of October||Health-Sports Day||体育の日||Taiiku no hi|
|November 3||Culture Day||文化の日||Bunka no hi|
|November 23||Labour Thanksgiving Day||勤労感謝の日||Kinrō kansha no hi|
|December 23||The Emperor’s Birthday||天皇誕生日||Tennō tanjōbi|
† Traditional date on which according to legend Emperor Jimmu founded Japan in 660 BC.
* Part of Golden Week.
Timeline of changes to the 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 Emperor Showa 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 (ハッピーマンデー制度, Happī Mandē 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 (国民の休日, kokumin no kyūjitsu?) that existed after the 1985 reform, while April 29 will be known as Shōwa Day.
- 2009: September 22 may become sandwiched between two holidays, which would make this day a national holiday.[dated info]
Gregorian months and the “One-Month Delay”
In contrast to other East Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, 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 Chūreki (“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 O-Bon 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 “O-Bon 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. This festival is never set on February 1.
Some days have special names to mark the change in seasons. The 24 Sekki (二十四節気, Nijūshi sekki?) (Chinese: Jieqi) are days that divide the solar year into twenty four equal sections. Zassetsu (雑節?) is a collective term for the seasonal days other than the 24 Sekki. 72 Kō (七十二候, Shichijūni kō?) 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, Risshū and Tōji, are still used quite frequently in everyday life in Japan.
Days can vary by ±1 day.
- Risshun (立春?): February 4—Beginning of spring
- Usui (雨水?): February 19—Rain water
- Keichitsu (啓蟄?): March 5—Awakening of hibernated (insects)
- Shunbun (春分?): March 20—Vernal equinox, middle of spring
- Seimei (清明?): April 5—Clear and bright
- Kokuu (穀雨?): April 20—Grain rain
- Rikka (立夏?): May 5—Beginning of summer
- Shōman (小満?): May 21—Grain full
- Bōshu (芒種?): June 6—Grain in ear
- Geshi (夏至?): June 21—Summer solstice, middle of summer
- Shōsho (小暑?): July 7—Small heat
- Taisho (大暑?): July 23—Large heat
- Risshū (立秋?): August 7—Beginning of autumn
- Shosho (処暑?): August 23—Limit of heat
- Hakuro (白露?): September 7—White dew
- Shūbun (秋分?): September 23—Autumnal equinox, middle of autumn
- Kanro (寒露?): October 8—Cold dew
- Sōkōc (霜降?): Otober 23—Frost descent
- Rittō (立冬?): November 7—Beginning of winter
- Shōsetsu (小雪?): November 22—Small snow
- Taisetsu (大雪?): December 7—Large snow
- Tōji (冬至?): December 22—Winter solstice, middle of winter
- Shōkan (小寒?): January 5—Small Cold; a.k.a. 寒の入り (Kan no iri), Entrance of the cold
- Daikan (大寒?): January 20—Major cold
|February 3||節分||Setsubun||The eve of Risshun by one definition.|
|March 18–March 24||春彼岸||Haru higan||The seven days surrounding Shunbun.|
|Vernal Equinox day||春社日||Haru shanichi||In Shinto. 彼岸中日 (Higan Chunichi) in Buddhism.|
|May 2||八十八夜||Hachijū hachiya||Literally meaning 88 nights (since Risshun).|
|June 11||入梅||Nyūbai||Literally meaning entering tsuyu.|
|July 2||半夏生||Hangeshō||One of the 72 Kō. Farmers take five days off in some regions.|
|July 15||中元||Chūgen||Officially July 15. August 15 in many region (Tsuki-okure).|
|July 20||夏の土用||Natsu no doyō||Custom of eating eel on this day.|
|September 1||二百十日||Nihyaku tōka||Literally meaning 210 days (since Risshun).|
|September 11||二百二十日||Nihyaku hatsuka||Literally meaning 220 days.|
|September 20–September 26||秋彼岸||Aki higan|
|Autumal Equinox||秋社日||Aki shanichi||In Shinto. 彼岸中日 in Buddhism.|
Shanichi days can vary by as much as ±5 days. Chūgen has a fixed day. All other days can vary by ±1 day.
Many zassetsu days occur in multiple seasons:
- Setsubun (節分?) refers to the day before each season, or the eves of Risshun, Rikka, Rishū, and Rittō; especially the eve of Risshun.
- Doyō (土用?) refers to the 18 days before each season, especially the one before fall which is known as the hottest period of a year.
- Higan (彼岸?) is the seven middle days of spring and autumn, with Shunbun at the middle of the seven days for spring, Shūbun for fall.
- Shanichi (社日?) is the Tsuchinoe (戊?) day closest to Shunbun (middle of spring) or Shūbun (middle of fall), which can be as much as −5 to +4 days away from Shunbun/Shūbun.
The following are known as the five seasonal festivals (節句 sekku, also 五節句 go sekku). The Sekku were made official holidays during Edo era on Chinese lunisolar calendar. The dates of these festivals are confused nowadays. Some on the Gregorian calendar, others on “Tsuki-okure”.
- 7th day of the 1st Month: 人日 (Jinjitsu), 七草の節句 (Nanakusa no sekku) held on 7 January
- 3rd day of the 3rd Month: 上巳 (Jōshi), 桃の節句 (Momo no sekku) held on 3 March in many areas, but in some area on 3 April
雛祭り (Hina matsuri), Girls’ Day.
5th day of the 5th Month: Tango
mostly held on 5 May
- 端午の節句 (Tango no sekku), 菖蒲の節句 (Ayame no sekku)
- Boys’ Day. Overlaps with the national holiday Children’s Day.
- 7th day of the 7th Month: 七夕 (Shichiseki, Tanabata), 星祭り (Hoshi matsuri ) held on 7 July in many areas, but in northern Japan held on 7 August(e.g. in Sendai)
- 9th day of the 9th Month: 重陽 (Chōyō), 菊の節句 (Kiku no sekku) almost out of vogue today
- 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: Ōmisoka
The rokuyō (六曜?) 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 rokuyō are commonly found on Japanese calendars and are often used to plan weddings and funerals, though most people ignore them in ordinary life. The rokuyō are also known as the rokki (六輝?). In order, they are:
|先勝||Senshō||Good luck before noon, bad luck after noon. Good day for beginnings (in the morning).|
|友引||Tomobiki||Bad things will happen to your friends. Funerals avoided on this day (tomo = friend, biki = pull, thus a funeral might pull friends toward the deceased). Typically crematoriums are closed this day.|
|先負||Senbu||Bad luck before noon, good luck after noon.|
|仏滅||Butsumetsu||Symbolizes the day Buddha died. Considered the most unlucky day. Weddings are best avoided. Some Shinto shrines close their offices on this day.|
|大安||Taian||The most lucky day. Good day for weddings and events like shop openings.|
|赤口||Shakkō||The hour of the horse (11 am–1 pm) is lucky. The rest is bad luck.|
The rokuyō days are easily calculated from the Japanese Lunisolar calendar. Lunisolar January 1 is always senshō, with the days following in the order given above until the end of the month. Thus, January 2 is tomobiki, January 3 is senbu, and so on. Lunisolar February 1 restarts the sequence at tomobiki. Lunisolar March 1 restarts at senbu, and so on for each month. The last six months repeat the patterns of the first six, so July 1 = senshō, December 1 is shakkō and the moon-viewing day of August 15 is always a “butsumetsu.”
This system did not become popular in Japan until the end of the Edo period.
The first day of April has broad significance in Japan. It marks the beginning of the government’s fiscal year. 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. (For more see also academic term.)