On January 1, 1873, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar, with local names for the months and mostly fixed holidays, but before 1873, a lunisolar calendar was in use, which was adapted from the Chinese calendar.[1] Japanese eras are still in use.


Since the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, three different systems for counting years have been used in Japan:

Of these three, the last two are still in current use; provides a convenient converter between the two. The imperial calendar was used from 1873 to the end of World War II.


The modern Japanese names for the months literally translate to "first moon", "second moon", and so on. The corresponding number is combined with the suffix -gatsu (moon):

  • January 一月 (ichigatsu)
  • February 二月 (nigatsu)
  • March 三月 (sangatsu)
  • April 四月 (shigatsu)
  • May 五月 (gogatsu)
  • June 六月 (rokugatsu)
  • July 七月 (shichigatsu)
  • August 八月 (hachigatsu)
  • September 九月 (kugatsu)
  • October 十月 (jūgatsu)
  • November 十一月 (jūichigatsu)
  • December 十二月 (jūnigatsu)

(Note that using Arabic numerals, as 3月, is extremely common in everyday communication, almost the norm.)

Traditional names

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 name of month: (pronunciation, literal meaning) (Note: 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 it is not really appropriate to equate the first month with January.)

  • 1st month of the lunar calendar: 睦月 (mutsuki, affection month)
  • 2nd month of the lunar calendar: 如月 or 衣更着 (kisaragi or kinusaragi, changing clothes)
  • 3rd month of the lunar calendar: 弥生 (yayoi, new life; the beginning of spring)
  • 4th month of the lunar calendar: 卯月 (uzuki, u-no-hana month; the u-no-hana is a flower, genus Deutzia)
  • 5th month of the lunar calendar: 皐月 or 早苗月 (satsuki or sanaetsuki, early-rice-planting month)
  • 6th month of the lunar calendar: 水無月 (minatsuki or minazuki, month of water—the 無 character, which normally means "not", 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 some say this is in reference to the flooding of the rice fields.[2] Some have suggested[who?], however, that the name "waterless month" would have been appropriate since this month would have been the month after the end of the monsoon rains.)
  • 7th month of the lunar calendar: 文月 (fumizuki, book month)
  • 8th month of the lunar calendar: 葉月 (hazuki, leaf month; In old Japanese, It's called 葉落ち月(haochizuki). It means "leaves falling month")
  • 9th month of the lunar calendar: 長月 (nagatsuki, long month)
  • 10th month of the lunar calendar: 神無月 (kaminazuki or kannazuki, "month without gods—but analogous to the name of the 6th month, the 無 character here could be the same possessive particle "na", making this "month of the gods") In Izumo province, modern-day Shimane Prefecture, this is emended to 神有月 or 神在月 (kamiarizuki, roughly "month with gods"), as all the gods are believed to gather there for an annual meeting at the Izumo Shrine.
  • 11th month of the lunar calendar: 霜月 (shimotsuki, frost month)
  • 12th month of the lunar calendar: 師走 (shiwasu, priests run; it is named so because priests are busy making end of the year prayers 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 directly to those used in Europe, was brought to Japan around AD 800. The system was used for astrological purposes and little else until 1876, shortly after Japan officially adopted the Gregorian calendar. Fukuzawa Yukichi was a key figure in the decision to adopt this system as the source for official names for the days of the week. The names come from the five visible planets, which in turn are named after the five Chinese elements (gold, wood, water, fire, earth), and from the moon and sun (yin and yang).

Japanese Romanization Element English name
火曜日kayōbiFire (Mars)Tuesday
水曜日suiyōbiWater (Mercury)Wednesday
木曜日mokuyōbiWood/Tree (Jupiter)Thursday
金曜日kin'yōbiMetal/Gold (Venus)Friday
土曜日doyōbiEarth (Saturn)Saturday

Japan also divides the month roughly into three 10-day periods. Each is called a jun (旬). The first is jōjun (上旬); the second, chūjun (中旬); the last, gejun (下旬). 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 but irregularly formed name:

1一日tsuitachi (sometimes ichijitsu) 17十七日jūshichinichi
2二日futsuka 18十八日jūhachinichi
3三日mikka 19十九日jūkunichi
4四日yokka 20二十日hatsuka
5五日itsuka 21二十一日nijūichinichi
6六日muika 22二十二日nijūninichi
7七日nanoka 23二十三日nijūsannichi
8八日yōka 24二十四日nijūyokka
9九日kokonoka 25二十五日nijūgonichi
10十日tōka 26二十六日nijūrokunichi
11十一日jūichinichi 27二十七日nijūshichinichi
12十二日jūninichi 28二十八日nijūhachinichi
13十三日jūsannichi 29二十九日nijūkunichi
14十四日jūyokka 30三十日sanjūnichi
15十五日jūgonichi 31三十一日sanjūichinichi

(Note that using Arabic numerals, as 14日, is extremely common in everyday communication, almost the norm.)

Tsuitachi is a worn-down form of tsukitachi, which means the first of the month. In the traditional calendar, the last day of the month was called 晦日 misoka. 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 (the big last day), and that term is still in use.

There is a tradition to use a term kichijitu (good day) for ceremonial events such as the preparation day of a wedding invitation letter and the build day of a memorial stone tablet. It is, however, not recognized as a legally valid date indication. So, for example, a will with kichijisu as its preparation date is not legally valid.Script error

National holidays

Main article: Holidays of Japan

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 Local 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 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 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.

Seasonal days

Some days have special names to mark the change in seasons. The 24 Sekki (二十四節気 Nijūshi sekki) are days that divide a year in the Lunisolar calendar 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. Some of these names, such as Shunbun, Risshū and Tōji, are still used quite frequently in everyday life in Japan.

24 Sekki

  • 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—a.k.a. 寒の入り (Kan no iri) entrance of the cold
  • Daikan (大寒): January 20—Major cold

Days can vary by ±1 day. See also: Jieqi.


Day Kanji Romaji Comment
January 17 冬の土用 Fuyu no doyō  
February 3 節分 Setsubun The eve of Risshun by one definition.
March 21 春社日 Haru shanichi Also known as 春社 (Harusha, Shunsha).
March 18–March 24 春彼岸 Haru higan The seven days surrounding Shunbun.
April 17 春の土用 Haru no doyō  
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 Sometimes considered a Zassetsu.
July 20 夏の土用 Natsu no doyō  
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  
September 22 秋社日 Aki shanichi Also known as 秋社 (Akisha, Shūsha).
October 20 秋の土用 Aki no doyō  

Shanichi days can vary as much as ±5 days. Chūgen has a fixed day. All other days can vary by ±1 day.

Many zassetsu days occur on 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.

Seasonal festivals

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.

  1. January 7 (1/7): 人日 (Jinjitsu), 七草の節句 (Nanakusa no sekku)
  2. March 3 (3/3): 上巳 (Jōshi, Jōmi), 桃の節句 (Momo no sekku)
    雛祭り (Hina matsuri), Girls' Day.
  3. Tango (端午): May 5 (5/5)
  4. July 7 (7/7): 七夕 (Shichiseki, Tanabata), 星祭り (Hoshi matsuri )
  5. September 9 (9/9): 重陽 (Chōyō), 菊の節句 (Kiku no sekku)

Not Sekku:


The rokuyō (六曜) are a series of six days that supposedly predict whether there will be good or bad fortune during that day. The rokuyō are still 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:

Kanji Romanization Meaning
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 15th" is always a "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.[3] 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.)

See also


  1. "The Japanese Calendar History". National Diet Library, Japan. 2002. Retrieved 2007-03-19. [ National Diet Library, Japan "The Japanese Calendar"-Calendar History 2]
  2. みなづき 【 ▽ 水無月/ ▽ 六月】の意味 国語辞典 - goo辞書 (Retrieved on March 21, 2009)
  3. "THE JAPANESE FISCAL YEAR AND MISCELLANEOUS DATA" (PDF). Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences. 2003. Retrieved 2007-10-08. 

External links


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