It’s been a bit of a shock that the New Year came and went so quickly. Even though logically the span of any given day is no different than the next, honestly it feels as if those first three days of 2015 zipped by like a horde of consumers on their way to a Black Friday sale. Doesn’t help that I’ve been having one drawn out battle with the cold outside and with the one I caught three weeks ago, which has kept my lungs dancing a messy tango. So it was pills, kotatsu, and mikan for me. What a great way to end 2014 and start 2015!
There’s something daring and novel about 2015. My gut feeling is that this is the year when Things will finally begin to Occur. But of course everyone is probably saying that right now: This is the year! This year unlike any others! Perhaps the symptoms of growing old should not be the onslaught of debilitating arthritis or creaky knees or a failing back but the realization that there’s only so much to do with so little time. I should probably be obsessing less on my age and more over the fact that North Korea may blow up the U.S. to avenge their dictator any day now or that Russia is (still) making things awkward in Eastern Europe (again) or even fixating on Japan’s clever, political re-interpretation on the constitutional prohibition of maintaining an ‘army’. But here I am with a dozen half-finished manuscript on my desktop, moping over the certain (uncertain) fact of failure and that I will be a starving writer with nothing to show for it but stacks upon stacks of unpublished poems and short stories to line my coffin once I finally die from that infernal cold. Worse yet, to be an obscure writer, published but never read. Such is my pre-midlife crisis. And, yes, I know it’s ridiculous.
But between then and now I’ve got a lot of living to do, which I intend to begin by posting about the calendar system in Japan and some other frightfully educational information that first timers to Japanese culture might not know. Cheers!
As George and Ira Gershwin once famously composed: “You like to-may-toes and I like to-mah-toes” though essentially they are equivalent in meaning. As go tomatoes so go calendar systems, in a manner of speaking. In the Western tradition, the Gregorian Calendar is a series of sequential years that are independent of who reigns/what ministerial cabinet takes over/presidential assassinations/etc. It’s 2015 C.E. (or A.D., depending on educational background) and it will remain so until January 01, 2016. Japan, on the other hand, has three ways of counting years that are in current use.
First, there is the Gregorian calendar which was adopted for convenience’s sake in the 1870s. And second, there is the more traditional method of counting the number of years since the current emperor’s ascent to the throne.
For example, when filling out your birth year in the Japanese calendar system for official forms, one must first list the reigning era’s name then the year since that era began and then the birth month and the birth day.
My birth date thus looks like: Heisei 03. XX Month. XX Day.
Basically it’s the same as writing:
1991/XX Month/XX Day
XX Day/XX Month/1991 (if you’re European)
XX Month/XX Day/1991 (if you’re American)
It gets a little confusing for obvious reasons: a) you must memorize the date and month on which each era began and ended, b) prior to Meiji, era names changed not just for enthronement (though that is the current trend) but also for wars, eclipses, plagues, etc., and c) it doesn’t translate very well into English (which has no history of using kanji). There have been other eras known as Showa, easily differentiated in Japanese by the type of kanji used.
Meiji Era: 23 October 1868 to 29 July 1912
Taisho Era: 30 July 1912 to 24 December 1926
Showa Era: 25 December 1926 to 7 January 1989
Heisei Era: 8 January 1989 to the present
Calculate from 1989 and some simple arithmetic will reveal that in Japan it is currently the 27th year of Heisei Era. Basically anyone born in 1989 will forever be reminded of their age while everyone else counts in their heads for a couple of seconds before receiving the same shock 😉
Finally, the traditional Chinese zodiac. Most people will know this one but not many are aware that the zodiac is still in use – albeit mainly only to mark the New Year and to associate the birth of a new child with a certain animal. 2015 is the year of the sheep. Anyone born in Heisei 03 (otherwise known as 1991) was also born on the year of the sheep. It’s a perpetual twelve year cycle, somewhat similar to the monthly zodiac of the West, only eleven months longer. Everyone born in 1991 will share the following sheep qualities, according to the Washington Post:
No one wants a baby born in 2015, the dreaded Year of the Sheep.
Sheep are meek creatures, raised for nothing more than slaughter. Babies born in the Year of the Sheep, therefore, will grow up to be followers rather than leaders, according to some superstitions. The children are destined for heartbreak and failed marriages, and they will be unlucky in business, many Chinese believe. One popular folk saying holds that only one out of 10 people born in the Year of the Sheep finds happiness. -Wan, William. Washington Post. 9 May 2014.
Quite the flattering portrait. Not as disconcerting once you realize that many a dragon (Emperor Nicholas II of Russia) and horse (Frederic Chopin) and snake (Queen Elizabeth I) have suffered from the aforementioned Sheep afflictions as well. Dragon is supposedly the luckiest of the twelve but that didn’t do the Russian monarchy any good. Michelangelo, on the other hand, enjoyed a wonderful career despite being a dreaded sheep.
And that is the calendar system as concisely as can be explained! Happy New Year to you all! 😀