Japan is in the year 2683?

The temple (well, not anymore) in question.

I asked the proprietor when the original temple was built.

'Tenth year of Genroku.’

Tenth year of Genroku? And in the Gregorian calendar?

'I don’t know, I’d have to look it up’.

Thanks, Japan.

But also, thanks Japan.

4th year of Reiwa, 2022 on the Gregorian, and 2682 in the Japanese Imperial Year: Last year’s Dewa Sanzan calendar featuring the three calendars used in Japan.

On my office wall I have a calendar from Dewa Sanzan Jinja (shrine). It’s a really cool calendar. It has a stunning photo of Gassan taken by Minori Inata who made some incredible Dewa Sanzan photography books over the years.

But one thing that really intrigues me about this calendar is the year. Or more precisely, the years.

Not only does this calendar feature the Gregorian calendar, it features the Japanese Imperial year as well. This year just so happens to be 2683.

2683!

Many people, Japanese included, forget the Japanese empire is the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world. The Empire dates back to the legendary founding of the country by Emperor Jimmu way back in 660 BC, and we’re currently at Emperor number 126.

126!

The Dewa Sanzan is a Shinto entity, the head of which is the Emperor. It’s only natural to include such a calendar. To confuse you even more, however, in Japan we do indeed use the Gregorian calendar, but also the calendar with the year of reign of the current emperor.

That’s right, like the three alphabets in Japanese, Japan has three calendars.

When Emperor Emeritus Akihito abdicated in 2019, ending the Heisei period, we entered the current period of Reiwa under Emperor Naruhito. This is also where that Genroku part came from. The Genroku period lasted from 1688 to 1704, coinciding with the reign of Emperor Higashiyama, and was also part of The Edo period.

Following me?

A ‘Retro’ car at my friend’s cafe in Sakata.

In short, Japanese people talk about their pre-and-post-war period of over half a century like we talk about the 1980s.

It’s not hard to see why though. The Showa period includes the all important bubble years, when everyone and their cat was raking it in. It also includes the all important Showa 63, the year I was born.

But there’s another interesting thing about calendars and Japanese people that took me a little while to get used to. You could even say I’m still not used to it.

Walk into a typical Japanese office, or in my case home, and in most likelihood you will see multiple calendars. Just like those walls of owl clocks with eyes that move side to side, so too are these walls covered in calendars.

Of course I’m exaggerating a bit here*, but you should know Japan is a country that loves its calendars.

And there’s a very simple reason for this, too.

Even posters like this one for a ‘light up’ event on Haguro-san feature calendars ( I love how it says a donation will be collected…)

In English, when we talk about doing something next Wednesday, in Japanese they talk about doing something on the 14th.

In English, when we talk about making plans, in Japanese they are compelled to physically look at a calendar. Tell someone you want to meet them next Thursday, and they’ll ask ‘what date was that?’

There’s nothing wrong with this, and in fact, it’s quite helpful.

Japanese is a language known for being ambiguous. In Japanese, it’s normal to suck your teeth and use the phrase ‘it’s difficult’ to really mean ‘No, I’m not going to your birthday party’ or ‘No, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to invite him’.

Yet when it comes to calendars, using the date avoids the back and forth of deciding which week is next week. Does next Monday mean the next Monday, or the Monday after?

When does the week even start? On Monday or Sunday?

With a precise date, we know for certain.

But then again, there’s always:

'The tenth year of Genroku.’

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Sakata City, Yamagata, Japan 

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