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Japanese calendar

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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 introduced early 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.
The era name (元号 gengō) system was also introduced from China and has been in continuous use since AD 701. Since the Taishō 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. 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 紀元 kigen) 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. Nowadays Japanese people know it as well as the regnal eras.

See also

Official calendar


The official dating system known as nengō (年号) (or strictly speaking gengō (元号)) 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 nengō system remains in wide use especially on official documents and government forms.

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. Usage of kōki 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. 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 naval 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 using a formula that is effectively equivalent to that of the Gregorian calendar: if the kōki 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 Kōki 2560 (AD 1900) is divisible by 4; but 2560 − 660 = 1900 which is evenly divisible by 100 and not by 400 so kōki 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 March 21 – June 20
Summer natsu June 21 – October 8
Autumn aki October 9 – December 7
Winter fuyu December 8 – March 20

See also "Seasonal days" below.


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 Western 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 Love " alternatively "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 (水無月 "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.
July 七月 (shichigatsu)
Fumizuki (文月 "Month of Erudition").
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 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 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.

Just as in English the names of the days come from the Latin names (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
日曜日 nichiyōbi Sun Sunday
月曜日 getsuyōbi Moon Monday
火曜日 kayōbi Fire (Mars) Tuesday
水曜日 suiyōbi Water (Mercury) Wednesday
木曜日 mokuyōbi Wood (Jupiter) Thursday
金曜日 kin'yōbi Metal (Venus) Friday
土曜日 doyōbi 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 (半ドン). 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 (月月火水木金金) 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 (旬). Each month is divided roughly into three 10-day periods:

The first (from the 1st to the 10th) is jōjun (上旬 upper jun)
The second (from the 11th to the 20th) chūjun (中旬 middle jun)
The last (from the 21st to the end of the month) gejun (下旬 lower 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." The magazine Kinema Junpo was originally published once every jun (i.e. three times a 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

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
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 jūhachi-nichi
19 十九日 jūkyū-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
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 nijūhachi-nichi
29 二十九日 nijūkyū-nichi
30 三十日 sanjū-nichi
31 三十一日 sanjūichi-nichi

Tsuitachi is a worn-down form of tsuki-tachi (月立ち) 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 Ōmisoka (大晦日 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.

National holidays

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

English name
Official name

January 1
New Year's Day

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


Tennō tanjōbi

March 20 or 21
Vernal Equinox Day
Shunbun no hi

April 29
Shōwa Day*
Shōwa no hi

May 3
Constitution Memorial Day*
Kenpō 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
Keirō no hi

September 23 or 24
Autumnal Equinox Day
Shūbun 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
Kinrō 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 Shōwa 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 (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.[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 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 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 (Hanyu Pinyin: Èrshísì Jiéqì; Japanese: 二十四節気; rōmaji: nijūshi sekki) 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.

The 24 sekki

Dates can vary by one day either way.

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
Sōkō (霜降): October 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; or Kan no iri (寒の入り)—Entrance of the cold
Daikan (大寒): January 20—Major cold


Date Kanji Romaji Comment
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 . Farmers take five days off in some regions.
July 15 中元 Chūgen Officially July 15. August 15 in many regions (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 dates can vary by as much as 5 days.
Chūgen has a fixed day. All other days can vary by one 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 days before to 4 days after Shunbun/Shūbun.

Seasonal festivals

The following are known as the five seasonal festivals (節句 sekku also 五節句 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".

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 (端午): 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
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.[citation needed])
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:

Good luck before noon bad luck after noon. Good day for beginnings (in the morning).
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.
Bad luck before noon good luck after noon.
Symbolizes the day Buddha died. Considered the most unlucky day.[citation needed] Weddings are best avoided. Some Shinto shrines close their offices on this day.
The most lucky day. Good day for weddings and events like shop openings.
The hour of the horse (11 am to 1 pm) is lucky. The rest is bad luck.

The rokuyō days are easily calculated from the Japanese lunisolar calendar. The first day of the first month is always senshō 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 senshō the 1st of the 12th is shakkō 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. 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.

simple explanation

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.


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