Taiken Japan

Autumn Leaves 2016

Understanding the Years Based on Japanese Eras

Photo: Cloganese on Flickr

Understanding the Years Based on Japanese Eras


When we write the date in Japan, we could see that instead of writing the year as 2015, they used to write 27 in most cases. If your date of birth is before 1989, you can notice an unpredictable change in the year which will make you really confused. So it is necessary to know clearly how to write the Japanese year and what is the basis of this year calculations.

While writing the date of a day in Japan, eventhough the date representation has the same day and month, we can notice a change in the year. Currently, 2015 is the year based on the Christian era which is used worldwide, but Japanese write the year as 27. For e.g.,12th August 2015 is written as 27/07/12 according to the Japanese calendar system. In Japan, like in most parts of the world, sometimes the Christian era and the calendar system based on it is used.  It’s really interesting to know on what basis is the Japanese calendar system and the date representation is done.

The calendar system that was used by the Japanese until 1973 was the lunar calendar system from China. The years of lunar calendar is associated with 12 different animals: rat, cow, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Now also, Japanese people give importance to this calendar system. During the New Year we can see the picture of any of these animals in the Greeting cards and other items associated with the New Year.


Photo : Stuart Rankin on Flickr
But the year system that is now used officially in Japan is based on the reigns of the various emperors of Japan. The current emperor of Japan is Akihito and his reign begun in the year 1989 from which started the current era named ‘Heisei’. It is now the 27th year of his reign in Japan and hence 2015 is denoted as ‘Heisei 27’.

Japanese era starts with a new emperor taking charge of the country and ends with his death. And hence, one cannot calculate the actual duration of the era as it varies every time. Usually the eldest son of the previous emperor is the successor after his father’s death. Eventhough Japan is currently having a Parliamentary system for carrying out its rule and other affairs, the Imperial family and the emperors are given their importance and respect. The Japanese way of era calculation and calendar system reveals this.

Modern Japanese era started in the year 1868 and from that time four different emperors were there until now and hence there are four different eras. They are the Meiji era, Taisho era, Showa era and the present Heisei era. Until now, Showa era was the longest among these which lasted for 63 years.

Emperor Meiji was the first one to start his reign in modern Japan and it called the Meiji era that started in the year 1868 and lasted for 44 years until his death in 1912. Thus the year 1868 is denoted as Meiji 1, 1869 as Meiji 2 and so on until 1912 denoted as Meiji 45.

Just after that, it was emperor Taisho’s reign. Taisho era started in 1912 which can be further denoted as ‘Taisho 1’ also. It lasted till 1926 for 14 years and the last year of this period could be denoted as ‘Taisho 15’ according to this calendar system. Next era was the Showa era that started in 1926 denoted by ‘Showa 1’ and lasted for 63 years until the death of the emperor Showa (Hirohito) on January 7th, 1989 or ‘Showa 64’. Soon after that, his son, Akihito, the current emperor of Japan took charge and the new era Heisei started. Hence the new calendar started in Japan in the year 1989.

This calendar system based on the reigns of various emperors is inconvenient in cases of calculating the duration between some years. As the various eras are lasting for different durations and couldn’t make a unique equation to calculate things like the ages of people, we have to remember the duration of every era to make such calculations. But as of now, people who are currently alive are the ones born in Showa period or after that(in the current Heisei period), remembering these two durations is enough to calculate the age of the present people.  This currently used calendar system of Japan is called the Gregorian Calendar system.