How to Read a Japanese Page-a-Day Calendar

Today is January 1, and I already can’t figure out what is happening. That’s because I bought a 日めくりカレンダー (himekuri karendaa), one of those nifty Japanese page-a-day calendars. As a basic date tool, it gets the job done, showing the day, month, and year. But each page is also covered in mysterious content that changes every day, at times repeating from earlier pages. Here is today’s page.

January 1 Calendar Page

Fortunately, the calendar company did not just print random content on every page. To help extract the meaning of each portion of the page, I added numeric indicators to the image shown above. The following list identifies each section by its number.

  1. The current year using the Gregorian calendar. Naturally, the current year is 2021.
  2. The current month. Japan uses basic numbers plus the kanji for “moon” for the month names, so 1月 (ichi gatsu) means “January.”
  3. The current year using Japan’s emperor-years. 2021 is known as 令和3年 (Reiwa sannen).
  4. The current month name based on Japan’s older lunisolar calendar.
    • January: 睦月 (mutsuki)
    • February: 如月 (kisaragi
    • March: 弥生 (yayoi)
    • April: 卯月 (uzuki)
    • May: 皐月 (satsuki)
    • June: 水無月 (minazuki)
    • July: 文月 (fumizuki or fuzuki)
    • August: 葉月 (hazuki)
    • September: 長月 (nagazuki)
    • October: 神無月 (kannazuki or kaminashizuki)
    • November: 霜月 (shimotsuki)
    • December: 師走 (shihasu or shiwasu)
  5. The current year as it would be known if the prior two emperor reigns had continued. These variations are helpful when working with older documents that assumed a long-reigning emperor. 平 is an abbreviation of 平成 (Heisei), the reign of Emperor Akihito that began in 1989. Likewise, 昭 is short for 昭和 (Shōwa), the reign of Emperor Hirohito that started in 1926.
  6. The large number in the middle is, of course, the day of the month. Flags indicate national holidays. On my calendar, Saturdays appear in blue, Sundays in red.
  7. If the day is a national holiday, its name appears in red. 元旦 (gantan) refers to New Year’s Day.
  8. The content in black text on the left and right sides of the page provide general information about the day. Think “National Pizza Day,” and you are in the ballpark. The example page above includes four phrases.
    • 年賀 (nenga): New Year’s, hinting at gifts or greetings.
    • 初詣で (hatsumōde): First shrine visit of the year
    • 省エネルギーの日 (shō enerugii no hi): Energy Conservation Day
    • 初酉 (hatsudori): First “rooster” day of the year. See item 11 below for details.
  9. The day of the week, Friday in this example.
    • Monday: 月曜 (getsuyō)
    • Tuesday: 火曜 (kayō)
    • Wednesday: 水曜 (suiyō)
    • Thursday: 木曜 (mokuyō)
    • Friday: 金曜 (kinyō)
    • Saturday: 土曜 (doyō)
    • Sunday: 日曜 (nichiyō).
  10. The equivalent day based on the traditional Chinese calendar, the standard used in Japan before the switch to the Gregorian system in 1873. The Chinese New Year in 2021 occurs on February 12.
  11. One of sixty entries from the 干支 (kanshi) system, the Chinese sexagenary cycle used for tracking dates. Although best known today for its animal-based years—2021 will be the Year of the Ox—there are extensions for months and days, and the day element appears on sample page above. There is also a cute matching animal icon to the left.
  12. Two terms that are used with fortune telling. The left-most term uses the 九星 (kyūsei) system, cycling among nine symbols. The right-most term uses the 六曜 (rokuyō) system, cycling among six symbols.
  13. The portion of the Twenty-Eight Mansions (二十八淑, nijyū-hasshuku), a Chinese constellation system, associated with the day. The pronunciation of the day’s character appears to the right, in katakana.
  14. A maxim, proverb, or useful expression. The message on the sample page above, 「一期一会」 (ichigo ichie), means, “Once in a lifetime [encounter],” implying that we should cherish the moments of our life, since they might not be repeated.
  15. The tidal range for the day, one of: 大潮 (ōshio, spring tide), 中潮 (nakashio), 小潮 (koshio, neap tide), 長潮 (nagashio), and 若潮 (wakashio). I tried to read a tide chart to understand what each of these means. However, it was full of science, so I gave up.
  16. An illustration of the moon phase for that day, indicating its waxing and waning.

There are several companies that publish 日めくりカレンダー, and the content and arrangement of each page will vary among their products. If you are looking to inject just a bit more Japanese into your daily life, turning over a new page on these calendars is a great way to start. Happy New Year!

[Image Credits: nico77iro/photo-ac.com]

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Tim Patrick

Tim Patrick is an author, software developer, and the host of Japan Everyday. He has published a dozen books and hundreds of articles covering technology, current events, and now life in Japan. Find his latest books at OwaniPress.com.

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