Japanese calendar

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Since January 1, 1873, Japan has used the Gregorian Calendar, with local names for the months and mostly fixed holidays. Before 1873 a lunisolar calendar was in use, which was adapted from the Chinese calendar.



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

  • The Western Common Era (西暦) designation
  • The Japanese era name (元号) based on the reign of the current emperor, the year 2005 being Heisei 17
  • The imperial year (皇紀) based on the mythical founding of Japan by Emperor Jinmu in 660BCE

Of the these three, the first two are still in current use; the imperial calendar was used until the end of World War II.


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):

Missing image
Koinobori, flags decorated like koi, are popular decorations around Children's Day
  • 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)

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, which are contemporary television shows and movies set in the Edo period or earlier

The name of month: (pronunciation, literal meaning)

  • January - 睦月 (mutsuki)
  • February - 如月 or 衣更着 (kisaragi or kinusaragi)
  • March - 弥生 (yayoi)
  • April - 卯月 (uzuki)
  • May - 皐月 or 早月 or 五月(satsuki)
  • June - 水無月 (minatsuki or minazuki, no water month)
  • July - 文月 (fumizuki, book month)
  • August - 葉月 (hazuki, leaf month)
  • September - 長月 (nagatsuki, long month)
  • October - 神無月 (kan'nazuki or kaminazuki, no god month), 神有月 or 神在月; (kamiarizuki, god month – only in Izumo province, where all the gods are believed to gather in October for an annual meeting at the Izumo Shrine)
  • November - 霜月 (shimotsuki, frost month)
  • December - 師走 (shiwasu, priests run; it is named so because priests are busy making end of the year prayers and blessings.)

Days of the month

Each day of the month has a semi-systematic but irregularly formed name:

1一日tsuitachi 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 (sometimes nijūnichi)
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

In the traditional calendar, the thirtieth was the last day of the month, and its traditional name, misoka, survives (although sanjunichi is far more common, and is the usual term). The last day of the year is ōmisoka (the big thirtieth day), and that term is still in use.

Days of the week

The seven day week, with names for the days corresponding directly to those used in Europe, was brought to Japan around 800 AD. The system was used for astrological purposes and little else until 1876, shortly after Japan officially adopted the Western calendar. Fukuzawa Yukichi was a key figure in the decison to adopt this system as the source for official names for the days of the week. The names come from the Chinese pholosophies of the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) and the yin and yang (moon, sun).


National holidays

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 following 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 Sējin no hi
February 11 National Foundation Day† 建国記念の日 Kenkoku kinen no hi
March 20 or 21 Vernal Equinox Day 春分の日 Shunbun no hi
April 29 Greenery Day * みどりの日 Midori no hi
May 3 Constitution Memorial Day * 憲法記念日 Kenpō kinenbi
May 4 National holiday *    
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 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 of the founding of Japan by Emperor Jimmu, in 660 BC. Veracity of this claim is often questioned.

* 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 Seido (ハッピーマンデー制度 Happī Mandē Sēdo) 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, while April 29 will be known as Showa 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 are still used quite frequently in everyday life in Japan.

24 Sekki

  • Jan 6: 小寒 (Shōkan) a.k.a. 寒の入り (Kan no iri)
  • Feb 20: 大寒 (Daikan)
  • Feb 4: 立春 (Risshun) - Beginning of spring
  • Feb 19: 雨水 (Usui)
  • Mar 5: 啓蟄 (Keichitsu)
  • Mar 21: 春分 (Shunbun) - Vernal equinox, middle of spring
  • Apr 5: 清明 (Seimei)
  • Apr 20: 穀雨 (Kokuu)
  • May 6: 立夏 (Rikka) - Beginning of summer
  • May 21: 小満 (Shōman)
  • Jun 6: 芒種 (Bōshu)
  • Jun 21: 夏至 (Geshi) - Summer solstice, middle of summer
  • Jul 7: 小暑 (Shōsho)
  • Jul 23: 大暑 (Taisho)
  • Aug 7: 立秋 (Risshū) - Beginning of autumn
  • Aug 23: 処暑 (Shosho)
  • Sep 8: 白露 (Hakuro)
  • Sep 23: 秋分 (Shūbun) - Autumnal equinox, middle of autumn
  • Oct 8: 寒露 (Kanro)
  • Oct 23: 霜降 (Sōkō)
  • Nov 7: 立冬 (Rittō) - Beginning of winter
  • Nov 22: 小雪 (Shōsetsu)
  • Dec 7: 大雪 (Taisetsu)
  • Dec 22: 冬至 (Tōji) - Winter solstice, middle of winter

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 - 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 - 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 whch 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. May 5 (5/5) - 端午 (Tango), 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.
  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 predict whether there will be good or bad fortune during that day. The rokuyō are still commonly found on Japanese calendars today, and are often used to plan weddings and funerals. 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
  • 友引 (tomobiki) - Bad things will happen to your friends. Funerals avoided on this day.
  • 先負 (senbu) - Bad luck before noon, good luck after noon
  • 仏滅 (butsumetsu) - Most unlucky day. Weddings best avoided.
  • 大安 (taian) - Most lucky day. Good day for weddings.
  • 赤口 (shakkō) - The hour of the horse (11 am - 1 pm) is lucky. The rest is bad luck.

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. (For more see also academic term)

See also

External links

fr:Ftes et jours fris japonais id:Kalender Jepang it:Calendario giapponese ja:日本のこよみ ms:Kalendar Jepun sl:Japonski koledar zh-cn:日本历


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