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. 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. 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.)
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. Some have suggested , 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; -priests are busy making end of year prayers and blessings.)