Calendar systems

[ . BACK to Worldkigo TOP . ]

Calendar Systems of the World

For the worldwide approach to kigo, we must differentiate between the "Haiku Season" and the natural phenomenon and human activites occuring at a certain season at a certain place.

To complicate our endeavor, we also have to deal with the Asian Lunar Calendar and the 24 seasons (periods), which were applied in Japan before the introduction of the Western Calendar, when kigo were already used in Japanese poetry.

Japan has been using the Gregorian calendar since 1874, but still refers to its KYUREKI 旧暦, the old calendar, on many occasions.
The months in haiku are one of them.

Here I want to introduce some info and LINKS to various calendar systems.

There are now various online tools to convert calendar dates.

Gregorian Calendar

The calendar currently in worldwide use for secular purposes based on a cycle of 400 years comprising 146,097 days, giving a year of average length 365.2425 days. The Gregorian calendar is a modification of the Julian calendar in which leap years are omitted in years divisible by 100 but not divisible by 400.

The Julian calendar was switched over to the Gregorian starting in 1582, at which point the 10 day difference between the actual time of year and traditional time of year on which calendrical events occurred became intolerable. The switchover was bitterly opposed by much of the populace, who feared it was attempt by landlords to cheat then out of a week and a half's rent.

However, when Pope Gregory XIII decreed that the day after October 4, 1582 would be October 15, 1582, the Catholic countries of France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy complied. Various Catholic German countries (Germany was not yet unified), Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland followed suit within a year or two, and Hungary followed in 1587.

Sweden followed England's lead in 1753. Russia, however, did not follow suit until 1918, when January 31, 1918 was immediately followed by February 14th. In fact, however, the USSR is not on the Gregorian calendar, but on a more accurate one of their own devising. The USSR calendar is designed to more closely approximate the true length of the tropical year, thus has one additional rule for when a year is a leap year. It will remain in synchronization with the Gregorian calendar for thousands more years, by which time one or both will have probably fallen into disuse. Similarly, Iranian calendar is also a more accurate version of the Gregorian calendar (Ross).

Read more on this external LINK
Gregorian Calendar © 1996-2006 Eric W. Weisstein



The beginnings of the Chinese calendar can be traced back to the 14th century B.C.E. Legend has it that the Emperor Huangdi invented the calendar in 2637 B.C.E.
Read a lot more on this external LINK © China Style

A lunar month started with the new moon.
An older Japanese system had a lunar month start with the full moon.
This makes allocations for kigo quite difficult, especially for the New Year kigo and celebrations on January 15, the "small new year" (koshoogatsu).

Zodiac Animals

The Chinese Zodiac
External LINK

. Zodiac Animals and Japanese Folk Toys .



Time in Saijiki
by Hasegawa Kai

In the old calendar,
spring was from the first month through the third month,
summer from the fourth month through the sixth,
autumn from the seventh month through the ninth, and
winter from the tenth month through the twelfth.

Since every month had a full moon falling on the fifteenth in the old calendar, the Bon Festival always fell on the day of the full moon.
According to the solar calendar, however, the fifteenth day of the seventh month is close to the end of the rainy season when summer is at its climax.
Even after 1873, new saijiki were edited one after another. The saijiki of the new era, however, could not just attach the season words to similar dates of the solar calendar, so that, for example, an observance of the ninth day of the ninth month (old style) would be attached to 9 September (new style). Events and customs that were firmly bound tothe old calendar still remained throughout the country.
The biggest problem caused by the change of calendar was the one-month discrepancy in correspondences of the four seasons and the twelve months.

More is here:
Names and Dates of the Old Japanese Months

In China (and later Japan), the solar year was divided by 24 seasonal points called "solar terms" ("ki 季" in Japanese). The 24 points are bases on the 2 solstices and 2 equinoxes.
All of these words are kigo for haiku. Here are just the four season beginnings, which are still used nowadays for the haiku seasons:

spring begins, February 4, risshun 立春
summer begins, May 6, rikka 立夏
autumn begins, August 8, risshuu 立秋
winter begins, November 7, rittoo 立冬
rittou, rittoh

The 24 Seasons in Japan (juunishi sekki 二十四節季)

Each of the 24 seasons is further divided into beginning, middle and end section, giving us 72 seasonal points or periods (koo 候).
The 72 Seasons in China and Japan (shichijuuni koo 七十二候)
Seasonal Points, seasonal pulses

The Circle of 60 Years
Jikkan Junishi (literally 10 stems and 12 branches) refers to the Chinese zodiac symbols, also called eto in Japanese. The 10 heavenly stems referred yin-yang principles and the elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Once full circle compirzes 60 years.

The 12 earthly branches included 12 animals:
rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and wild boar (sometimes translated as "pig", but it is in fact the wild boar 亥 in Asia)

2007 is the Year of the Wild Boar.

2008 : the Year of the Mouse / Rat !

Even years are yang, odd years are yin. Since the zodiac animal cycle of 12 is divisible by two, every zodiac can only occur in either yin or yang: the dragon is always yang, the snake is always yin, etc. This combination creates a 60-year cycle, starting with Wood Rat and ending with Water Boar.
The current cycle began in the year 1996.

The 60th birthday of a person completes one circle. Kanreki 還暦.
The 60 Year Circle and Japanese Birthdays

KANSHI (or ETO 干支) = Zodiac Calendar
JUUNI SHI (or JUNI SHI 十二支) = 12 Zodiac Animals
By Mark Schumacher

Zodiac Animal Statues at Temple Sanbutsu-Ji, Mitoku San, Japan
by Gabi Greve

. The Jōkyō calendar (貞享暦 Jōkyō-reki) .
Jokyo calendar in use from 1684 to 1753, by
Shibukawa Shunkai 渋川春海 Shibukawa Harumi (1639 - 1715)

koyomi uri, koyomi-uri 暦売り selling new calendars in Edo


koyomi 暦 Japanese calendars

- quote -
Later calendar amendments
As the Edo period wore on and knowledge of astronomy grew more sophisticated, the discrepancy between the calendar and actual astronomical events, such as eclipses of the sun and moon, became an issue, there arose a movement within the shogunate to amend the calendar. Prior to then, the calendar was made each year based on the Senmyo-reki brought from China in the 4th year of Jogan (862), but as the same method had been used for more than eight centuries, it was deemed consistent with the situation prevailing at the time.
In the 2nd year of Jokyo (1685), a method of making the calendar was devised by Shibukawa Harumi, marking the first attempt by a Japanese, with the amended version known as the Jokyo calendar. Later in the Edo Period, the calendar was revised several times, the results respectively called the Horeki (1755), Kansai (1798) and Tenpo (1844) calendars. Through these amendments, a more accurate lunisolar calendar was devised incorporating Occidental astronomy. Calendar calculation was made by the "Tenmongata" (officer in charge of astronomy) in the Edo shogunate, with notes added by the Kotokui family, descendants of the Kamo family, after which calendars were issued by publishers in various regions.

Daily life and the calendar
Calendars at first were exclusively for the use of the imperial court and noblemen, but after the dawn of printed calendars, more and more people came to use them. Farmers and merchants found them essential to know the seasons and events. In particular, when using lunisolar calendars in which the order of long and short months changed year after year, learning them proved indispensable for merchants who made collections or payments at the end of each month.
Because of this, various types of calendars were devised and used.

Woman reading the Ise calendar 伊勢暦に見入る女性

Local calendars
Calendars were published mainly in Kyoto, but as the demand rose, they began to sell in various regions. A very old one, the Mishima-reki calendar, published in a district corresponding to the present-day Mishima City in Shizuoka Prefecture, is said to date back to the 14th century. Another is the Ise-reki calendar, which was published in what is now Ise City in Mie Prefecture and widely spread as Oshi, Shinto priests of the Ise Shrines, traveled through the country.

E-goyomi (Picture calendar)

In former times when, unlike today, a great many people were illiterate, some calendars were made only with pictures. The Tayama calendar and Morioka e-goyomi, both produced in what is now Iwate Prefecture, are such examples.

Daisho-reki calendars
These calendars were produced to help people learn the order of long and short months. In calendars of this type, long and short months were incorporated in drawings and sentences, for which their manufacturers vied in novelty and of humor. They were widespread among the populace during the Edo period.
In "Unriddling the Daisho-reki calendar" of Part II, various Daisho-reki calendars will be introduced.

Various forms of calendars
Simplified calendars, consisting of only the well-used parts, are called Ryaku-reki (Abridged calendars). Folding them into small sections or tacking them to a post, people in the Edo period used them for daily reference. Many examples of these calendars remain today. As in the case of contemporary calendars, merchants distributed them among their customers at the year-end as a form of advertising.
Hashira-goyomi (pillar calendar)
Kaichu-reki (pocket calendar)

Meiji era change
The Meiji government, established in 1868 after a lengthy revolution, undertook to modernize the nation by introducing Western ways. This included replacing the old lunar calendar with the Gregorian version in November 1872 (5th year of Meiji), which took effect the following year and continues in use today.
Since there was little time for preparation and December 3 of the 5th year of Meiji became January 1 of 6th year, a great amount of confusion prevailed. Nevertheless, scholars like Fukuzawa Yukichi supported the more logical Gregorian calendar and published books intended to diffuse it.
While the calendar Japan uses today is the Gregorian type, it still includes words to express seasons, as found in the ancient lunisolar calendar. While the calendar is renewed every year, the history and culture of Japan are engraved in it.
- source and photos : National Diet Library, 2002 -


External LINK

Time in Saijiki
by Hasegawa Kai

PDF file

ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo

The five elements of Chinese Taoism also play a role in the calendar system.

wood 木 .. fire 火 .. earth 土 .. metal 金  .. water

Each comes with a
light or elder version ... no-e
dark or younger verison ... no-to

For example, the "Shrine day" is held on the "light or elder day of the earth" tsuchi no e 戊.
The God of Rice Paddies and Haiku

These ten elements, when combined with 12 elements (animals), form a very important basis for measuring time, direction or even the destiny in a horoscope of a person.


sixtieth birthday -
thinking of Hiroshima
thinking of you

Gabi Greve, 2006


2007, year of the boar, year of the wild boar 亥

Sometimes translated as "Year of the Pig",
but in Japanese, the pig is a different animal, the BUTA 豚.

Wild Boar, inoshishi 猪 : a kigo


The Islamic Calendar

The Japanese word kisetsu 季節, translated as season,
refers to the climate changes of
spring, summer, autumn and winter.

The English word season can also refer to other things, for example
a certain period of time.
source : www.thefreedictionary.com

Therefore the expression "Season of Ramadan" is not linked to climate, but to a special period of time.

The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, and months begin when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted. Since the Islamic lunar calendar year is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar year and contains no intercalation,
Ramadan migrates throughout the seasons.

. The Islamic Calendar and Ramadan .


External LINKs

Calendar - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Divination and the Calendar System


Culture of Iran: Iranian Calendar Systems, History and Origins

Calendars and their History

The Calendar Zone -- Bringing Order to Calendrical Chaos!

Sacred Calendar Systems

Calendar Links -- rudy.ca


Issa about becoming 60 !

manroku no haru to nari keri kado no yuki

60 years old
my new spring
snow at my gate

© Haiga and Translation by Namakura Sakuo


- - - - - Compiled by Larry Bole :

Makoto Ueda, in his book, "Dew on the Grass: The Life and Poetry of Kobayashi Issa,"
discusses this haiku.

It starts with a discussion of a request by Issa to be exempted from a packhorse tax, which Ueda says was less motivated by a desire to save money, but rather out of jealousy directed at a neighbor, Yaichi, to whom Issa was related through his father's lineage. It's a complicated story.

Anyway...Ueda goes on to say that Issa was aware of his character flaws, and on the lunar New Year's Day, which arrived two days after he submitted his petition to be exempted from the packhorse tax (which he submitted on January 21, 1822), he wrote the following haibun:

It is believed that the Buddha, when he saw the starlight at dawn one day, realized how wrong a life he had been leading for the past forty-nine years. Having been born a country dunce, I have strayed into dark pathways one after another during the fifty-nine years of my life, too weak to reach the moonlight I saw in the distance. Whatever effort I made to reform myself led me farther into a labyrinth of confusion, like the effort of a blind man trying to read a book or a crippled man struggling to dance a dance.

Indeed, there is a proverb that says "There is no medicine to cure a fool." If I have to remain a fool in the future, so be it. I will spend the rest of my life as a fool.

manroku no haru to narikeri kado no yuki

the ripe age of sixty
has come with spring--
snow in the front yard

Tr. Ueda

Ueda's comment:
The target of his criticism here is neither Senroku [another neighbor Issa feuded with] nor Kiku [wife] nor Yaichi but Issa himself. He knows his spiritual attainments are far from the Buddha's, who achieved enlightenment at the age of thirty (Issa was mistaken about the age). At the "ripe" age of sixty, he still does all sorts of foolish things, and the harder he tries not to, the more confused he becomes.
All he can do is to remain passive, to remain the fool that he is. Although his belief in passivity is the same, he is more humble now than the former Issa who aggressively promoted total submission to Amida Buddha. The Buddha in the haibun is not Amida but Sakyamuni and Issa places himself at a distance from that founder of
Buddhism. [end of comment]

Regarding "snow at my gate:" Lanoue translates fifteen haiku of Issa's which include the phrase "kado no yuki."


About the subject haiku, and the meaning of "snow at my gate," Lanoue comments:

"Issa, though he now has reached his own sixtieth year, declares that he is too set in his ways to change. He will remain a fool, he declares. ...

"It is springtime, but winter's snow is still piled up at the gate, suggesting that Issa, like the weather, has not changed. Manroku is an old word that signifies propriety, justice, or fairness; Kogo dai jiten (Shogakukan 1983) 1547."

Lanoue also translated Issa's most well-known (at least in the West) haiku which has the phrase "kado no yuki" in it:

massugu na shooben ana ya kado no yuki
straight ... pissing hole ... snow at gate

The straight hole
Made by pissing
In the snow outside the door.

Tr. Blyth

Pissing in the snow
outside my door--
it makes a very straight hole.

Tr. Robert Hass

Just beyond the gate,
a neat yellow hole--
someone pissed in the snow

Tr. Sam Hamill

what a straight
piss hole!
snow at the gate

Tr. Lanoue


Manroku is an old word that signifies propriety, justice, or fairness; Kogo dai jiten (Shogakukan 1983) 1547.

some "proper spring"
this is!
snow at the gate

Tr. David Lanoue / Spring Haiku


***** Seasons and Categories Learn the Basics of World Kigo.

Names and Months,
24 solar sections and 72 seasonal points
***** . WKD : The Japanese Haiku Seasons .

. My Kigo Calendar - the 12 Months . .  


. Japanese Calendar Days .

- Join the friends on facebook ! -





. Gabi Greve said...

Oh my goodness!!
What a wealth of information on Calendars!
I need to spend more time there. There isn't much you don't cover Gabi!
I bet lots come to your site for renku inspiration! Very interesting reading. I confess to getting confused keeping track of any calendar but my own, but find it fascinating reading.

A friend from America.

I am glad you can use the info.
I will try and find more.

Anonymous said...

How important was that change on January 1, 1873 when the Meiji Government adopted the Gregorian solar calendar?
Before that time for centuries the Japanese had used the lunisolar calendar giving a date which indicates both the moon phase and the season.

The months followed the moon,s cycle of the phases of the moon.
Since the moon orbits the earth in about 29.5 days, an adjustment was required and this was done by making months with either 30 days or 29 days.

The Gregorian cycle loses 6 hours each year, thus a extra day is added every four years [29 February]. The lunar cycle requires a 13th month every 6 years to align it with the natural cycle of the Earth around the Sun.

In the Japanese system the New Year corresponds to the beginning of Spring. The Tanabata Festival is on the seventh day of the seventh month and the temperature is lower then than if the calculation was made from January 1.

More by Hugh Bygott:

Anonymous said...

Double hours of the old calendar

The time systems employed in ancient China and Japan are discussed. It is well known that both in ancient China and Japan 1 day was divided into 12 double hours, and the first double hour began at 23 hr local time.

However, it is confirmed in this paper that in the Chinese Song dynasty the first double hour began at 0 hr local time. One day was also divided into 100 equal parts, called ke, and ke was subdivided by a time unit called fen. The number of fen in 1 ke varied from dynasty to dynasty.

These numbers were clarified by analyzing the tables of daytime duration given in the official Chinese chronicles. In ancient Japan, the time units ke and fen were also used, but the lengths of both of them varied depending on the era.

It has been found that all of the daytime and nighttime, the times of sunrise and sunset, and the lengths of shadows given in the official Chinese chronicles refer to a particular latitude of about 34.°5, and that the Japanese system adopted this Chinese tradition.

Symmetry of the data in tables with respect to certain dates was also investigated in detail in order to examine how the dates of 24 qis were determined.

Anonymous said...

『現代俳句キーワード辞典』立風書房, 1990

夏石番矢(なついし ばんや)

Gendai Haiku Keyword Jiten
Natsuishi Banya


Gabi Greve said...

Calendar Systems of the World !

Very usefull converter reference !

Anonymous said...

ISSA and his manroku :

Gabi, you've given me hope and a new sense of being 60
(uh... 61, now, but who's still counting?)

a friend from USA

sakuo said...

massugu na shooben ana ya kado no yuki (straight ... pissing hole ... snow at gate)

I like David's translation best.
This ku is very simple.
It just says that pissing hole is straight.
It means that I am still young(I is Issa),so I can make my piss hole straightly.
At the gate is(my gate= It's me)

Issa said that I am still young,Yes I am!!
So I could say David's English is simple, strong and best.

what a straight
piss hole!
snow at the gate

Tr. Lanoue

PS; if you have suspicion what I said, please ask your husband about straight piss hole in snow.

anonymous said...

Names of the Japanese Months

1.Mutsuki - 4 Feb – 5 Mar (Feb)
Sociable Month
The archaic name for January. Also read as "Mutsubizuki". Etymological word was unknown but in poetry, it always means the month of affection when members of family, relatives and friends join to celebrate the New Year.

2.Kisaragi - 6 Mar – 4 Apr (Mar)
The archaic name for February. Etymological word was said to be (Kisaragi) means the rebirth of plants and trees, or (Kinusaragi or Kisaragi) means putting more clothes against the cold weather. (In Japan, February is said to be the coldest month of the year)

3.Yayoi - 5 Apr – 5 May (Apr)
The archaic name for March. Etymological word was said that it was transformed from (ya-oi) means the thickly growth. The word (ya or iya) is a prefix, sometime it means "many".

4.Uzuki - 6 May – 5 Jun (May)
Deutzia Month
The archaic name for April. It means the month in which (U no Hana) or the flower of Deutzia blooms.

5.Satsuki - 6 Jun – 6 Jul (Jun)
Swamp Month
The archaic name for May. The word "Sa", is omitted from (Sanaezuki), means the month of planting rice shoots. Sometime it also can be written as (Satsuki). The word is a prefix, no meaning. For another example : (Sa-otome)

6.Minazuki - 7 Jul – 7 Aug (Jul)
Waterless Month
Also read as "Minatsuki". Although literally, it means the "waterless month", etymological word has various views. Some said that "Mi" refers to water and "Na" is a word added for euphony. So, the original meaning may be "Mi no tsuki" or "Month of water". (June is the month which has the most rain of the year).

7.Fumizuki -8 Aug – 7 Sep (Aug)
Waterless Month
The archaic name for July. Also read as "Fuzuki" or archaic, "Funzuki". Literally, "month of letter". It has various views on etymology. Some peoplementioned that the original was from the late Heian period (794-1192) which said that July was the month for writing a letter with casual language. Some people that because of Tanabata Festival (on July 7), people wrote a poem in Chinese characters. So it can be said that it was the month of poetry.

8.Hazuki - 8 Sep – 7 Oct (Sep)
Leaf Month
The archaic name for August. Also read as "Hatsuki". Etymological word was unknown, but It refers to the month of falling leaves. In an ancient story, it said that around this time, leaves on the moon changed into light yellow which made the moon became more delight.

9.Nagatsuki - 8 Oct – 6 Nov (Oct)
Long Month
The archaic name for September. Also read as "Nagazuki". Literally, "Long month", or sometime refers to "Long moon". Because poets appreciated the beauty of full moon through out long nights of the spring.

10.Kannazuki - 7 Nov – 6 Dec (Nov)
"Month without the Gods"
The archaic name for October. Also read as "Kaminazuki" or "Kamunazuki". Literally, "godless month". The legend said that large numbers (Yao-yorozu)of gods from places in Japan, leave their homes to assemble at Izumo Taisha or the Grand shrine of Izumo (now located in Shimane Prefecture) to match soul mates for human. So, there were no gods remains in local shrines. In Izumo, people called this month (Kami-arizuki) or "month of gods".

Large Number, in this case, is the word (Yao-yorozu). Although literally means 8 million, in Archaic Japanese, the word "Ya" means "many". So, the word Yao-yorozu should means "great numbers".

11.Shimotsuki -7 Dec – 4 Jan (Dec)
Frost Month
The archaic name for November. Literally, "month of frost", because in Japan, winter begins at early November. Dew becomes frozen from the northeast of Japan. It was named to reminds farmers to get ready for winter.

12.Shiwasu - 5 Jan – 3 Feb (Jan)
Busily Rushing About
The archaic name for December. Also called (Gokugetsu) or (Gokutsuki). The word "Shi" refers to a priest, literally, "running priests". It always means to "month of busy priests". In the past, it was a custom that priests must went to houses to attend religious services to Buddhists. Around the end of a year, priests would be busy going to places and it also showed how people be busy at the end of a year.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Gabi!
This is very helpful !

Gabi Greve said...

A page about the Japanese Calendar and more



新暦 旧暦 題 目
** ** 節句の話・五節句とは
一月 ** お正月
** 人日の節句(七草の節句)
二月 節分と豆まき
三月 ** 桃の節句(雛祭り)
四月 役所の一年は4月から・・・会計年度のはなし
五月 八十八夜
** 端午の節句
六月 父の日とバラの花
七月 ** 半夏生(はんげしょう)
** 七夕(七夕の節句)
** お中元
八月 七月 お盆(盂蘭盆)
九月 二百十日
** 重陽の節句(菊の節句)
八月 中秋の名月はいつ?(旧暦の十五夜は満月か?)
九月 もう一つの名月・九月十三夜の月
十一月 ** 七五三のはなし
十二月 十一月 冬至のはなし

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa


haru tatsu ya gu no ue ni mata gu ni kaeru

Chris Drake writes:

...as the painful days and months passed, I somehow found myself able to sing out like a bird in the pleasing sounds of country haikai. At that time various kinds of poetry were becoming more and more popular, and I was able to stand in the shade of some very tall trees and rest there for ten or even twenty days at a time, but none of them were my own house, and in many ways I could never feel completely at home. Numerous times I might easily have died, so it's rather amazing to realize I've reached my sixty-first year. Truly, my happiness now exceeds the joy of the blind turtle in the Buddhist proverb that, against all odds, manages to find a floating log in the middle of the ocean to rest on. My lack of ability and talent turned out to be an elixir bringing me long life.

a new year --
this fool is born again
as a fool

This humorously serious hokku, written on New Year's Day, is Issa's first for the new year in 1823. The change of year is important, because everyone gets a year older on the first day of the year, and on this day Issa turns 61 by traditional Japanese counting, a day that is the occasion of a celebration called kanreki. On this day Issa returns once more to a year governed by the same Sino-Japanese astrological symbols that governed the year of his birth 60 years earlier. In between there has been a 60-year or sexagenary cycle that began with the year of his birth, with each year being governed by different astrological symbols. Today a new 60-year cycle begins, allowing the fool Issa to symbolically be reborn once more as a fool. To celebrate the fact that he's been reborn, it's likely Issa has been given some bright red diapers to symbolize his rebirth. In contemporary Japan, however, red vests and red cushions are the most common gifts, because the concept of being reborn at age 61 has virtually disappeared from Japanese culture.
Chris Drake

the complete comment

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

. Kigo Calendar - the 12 Months .

Gabi Greve said...

....................... About special Japanese birthdays:

What is Ga No Iwai?
Ga no iwai (also known as toshiiwai) is a Japanese rite of passage
celebrated at various ages to pray for long life. This tradition was brought
to Japan from China, and originally was celebrated once every ten years
beginning when one turned 40 according to the traditional Japanese method of
calculating age.
Since the sixteenth century, ga no iwai has come to be celebrated beginning
when one turns 60 (kanreki), and subsequently at ages 70 (koki), 77 (kiju),
80 (sanju), 88 (beiju), 90 (sotsuju), and 99 (hakuju).

What is Kiju?
The celebration of one’s 77th birthday is an example of ga no iwai. Age 77
is the “joyous year,” and to live until that age is indeed fortunate. The
Japanese characters for kiju literally mean “joy” and “long life.”

What is Beiju?
The celebration of one’s 88th birthday, known as beiju or “yone-no-iwai,”
became popular since the Japanese characters for “88”, when written
together, resemble the character for “rice” (yone, also read as bei).

From the very beginning of history, rice was respected by the people, for it
was their food, their life, their very livelihood and happiness. An integral
and fundamental part of Japanese society, rice symbolized purity and
goodness. Thus the 88th birthday is celebrated as a happy and joyous

Gabi Greve said...

The Chinese Zodiac

One full circle was completed after 60 years, that is why kanreki is so
important and really more of a re-birth than just another birthday. From now
on, one entered the second circle of 60 years...

Jikkan Junishi (literally 10 stems and 12 branches) refers to the Chinese
zodiac symbols, also called eto in Japanese. The 10 heavenly stems referred
yin-yang principles and the elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water.
The 12 earthly branches included 12 animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit,
dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and wild boar.

The two sets were used together to enumerate years and other elements of the
civil, or official, calendar. The 10 stems and 12 branches were used
together to create a cycle of 60 two-symbol combinations. The complex
calendar, called the sexagenary cycle, was officially adopted in Japan in
604 by the Empress Suiko.

Typically the calendar is depicted in a line, but when written out in a
circle, the symbols are also used to note the time of day and directions.
For example, the period between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. corresponds roughly to
the hour of the rat and points nort h. The horse indicates a two-hour
interval around midday and points south.

Just as some Westerners believe people take on the character of the zodiac
symbol under which they are born, the Japanese believed that people took on
the character of the animal sign of one's birth. For example, people born in
the year of the rat (i.e., any year in which the rat symbol is part of the
two-symbol combination) were restless. Those born in the year of the ox were
patient. In Japan, women born in the year hinoe uma (fire-yang-horse) were
thought to be headstrong and inclined to kill th eir husbands. The year also
was thought to bring a rash of fires.


is the year or day within the sexagenary cycle that falls on the combination
of ko (associated with metal and the planet Venus) and the monkey, or ninth
symbol on the zodiac. In ancient Taoist tradition, on the night of a koshin
day, three worms believed to dwell in the human body would sneak out and
report a person's sins to the Celestial God. Upon learning of the person's
sins, the god would shorten that individual's life. To prevent this, people
stayed awake on koshin nights and the day eventually became known as the
koshin machi or koshin wake.

Such beliefs were particularly widespread during the Edo period (1600-1868)
when people regularly tried to determine auspicious (good) or inauspicious
(bad) times before beginning activities such as a new business, marriage or
other venture. Even though m ost Japanese today would largely dismiss
superstitions, just as modern U.S. newspapers still print each day's
horoscope, the zodiac continues to have a role in Japanese society. Since it
would be discourteous to ask someone his or her age, Japanese people often
will ask what someone's sign is and then privately calculate that person's

Gabi Greve said...

The Lunar Calendar in Japan
By Steve Renshaw and Saori Ihara
Revised February, 2010