Can you tell me the old names of the months?

Question of the Week Vol. 34

Kyuureki

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This week's question is "Can you tell me the old names of the months?".

In Japanese the months are simply numbered from one to twelve. For example, January is the first month of the year, therefore it is called "ichi-gatsu." Click here to hear the pronunciation of the months. 

There are also old names of each month. These names date back to the Heian period (794-1185) and are based on the lunar calendar.

Today they are not normally used when saying the date. They are written in a Japanese calendar sometimes along with modern names. They are also used in poems or novels. Of the twelve months, yayoi (March), satsuki (May) and shiwasu (December) are still referred to quite often. A fine day in May is called "satsuki-bare." Yayoi and satsuki can be used as female names. 

 Modern NameOld Name
Januaryichi-gatsu
一月
mutsuki
睦月
Februaryni-gatsu
二月
kisaragi
如月
san-gatsusan-gatsu
三月
yayoi
弥生
Aprilshi-gatsu
四月
uzuki
卯月
Maygo-gatsu
五月
satsuki
皐月
Juneroku-gatsu
六月
minazuki
水無月
Julyshichi-gatsu
七月
fumizuki
文月
Augusthachi-gatsu
八月
hazuki
葉月
Septemberku-gatsu
九月
nagatsuki
長月
Octoberjuu-gatsu
十月
kannazuki
神無月
Novemberjuuichi-gatsu
十一月
shimotsuki
霜月

 
Decemberjuuni-gatsu
十二月
shiwasu
師走


Each old name has the meaning. 

If you know about the Japanese climate, you might wonder why minazuki (June) is the month of no water. June is rainy season (tsuyu) in Japan.

However, the old Japanese calendar was about a month behind the European calendar. It means minazuki was from July 7th to August 7th in the past.

It is believed that all the Gods from throughout the country gathered at Izumo Taisha (Izumo Shrine) in kannazuki (October), therefore there were no gods for other prefectures.

December is the busy month. Everyone, even the most respected priests run around  for preparation of the New Year. 

Old NameMeaning
mutsuki
睦月
Month of harmony
kisaragi
如月
Month of wearing extra layers of clothes
yayoi
弥生
Month of growth
uzuki
卯月
Month of Deutzia (unohana)
satsuki
皐月
Month of planting rice sprouts
minazuki
水無月
Month of no water
fumizuki
文月
Month of literary
hazuki
葉月
Month of leaves
nagatsuki
長月
Autumn long month
kannazuki
神無月
Month of no Gods
shimotsuki
霜月
Month of frost
shiwasu
師走
Month of running priests
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Your Citation
Abe, Namiko. "Can you tell me the old names of the months?" ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/can-you-tell-me-the-old-names-of-the-months-2027868. Abe, Namiko. (2017, March 3). Can you tell me the old names of the months? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/can-you-tell-me-the-old-names-of-the-months-2027868 Abe, Namiko. "Can you tell me the old names of the months?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/can-you-tell-me-the-old-names-of-the-months-2027868 (accessed September 19, 2017).