How to Convert Japanese Calendar Years


Japanese calendar year solar calendar

Don’t worry, it isn’t going to be this difficult.

Living in Japan, you’ll often find situations where you have to use Japanese calendar years. Although somewhat antiquated, this system is still used by the government (where all practices are out of date) and in formal documents such as Japanese resumes.

Knowing how to convert these dates at need will save you some trouble and frustration. I recommend carrying around a personal conversion chart in your wallet with the most common, important dates for you, so that you can refer to it at need.

I’ve created a tool to build and print your own conversion chart. Click here to check it out!

When to Use the Japanese Calendar

Many official forms in Japan will require you to use the Japanese calendar when writing the year. Examples include City Hall forms, some postal and banking forms, and Japanese-style resumes (rirekisho 履歴書 or shokumukeirekisho 職務経歴書).

You will be able to tell if a Japanese-style date is required by the prefix in the date field, or the option to select a prefix, as shown in the examples below.

Example 1:

平成     年      月      日

This version is frequently found as a submission date or completion date field. The current era, Heisei, is already filled in, since it’s assumed you are entering today’s date.

Example 2:

明治  大正
昭和  平成
    年      月      日

A variation of this example is most common for birth dates or other days that might not have been within the last 28 years. In this example, you would circle the appropriate era and write the year, month, and day numbers. Era names may also be shortened to just the first character above or to an English Letter, such as “H28” for Heisei 28. See the chart below for more details.

Note: You may see 西暦 as a fifth “era name” option. This means “Western Calendar,” so you could circle that option and write the four-digit year (e.g. 2016).

What the Japanese Years Represent

Since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Japanese era name has changed with each Imperial accession to the throne. The current era, Heisei (平成) began the current emperor took the throne on his father’s death in 1989.

There have been 4 eras since 1868, with Heisei being the current one. In 2016, the current emperor stated that he wished to abdicate within the next few years, which would bring an end to the Heisei era.

For almost all cases, you will only ever need to use Heisei and Showa (昭和), which began in 1926, or any era name that comes into existence in the future. However, conversions for all years since the Meiji Restoration can be found below.

On Emperors’ Names

Each Emperor has a given name, but it is considered rude to refer to them by that name. It is, however, acceptable to refer to the Crown Prince (皇太子 koutaishi) by his first name. For example, Crown Prince Naruhito is the heir apparent of the current emperor and we can call him by that name. However, if he were to ascend the throne, it would not be appropriate to call him “Emperor Naruhito.”
The Imperial family does not use a family name.

In conversation or in the news, the current emperor is called “The Emperor” (天皇陛下 tenno heika) or “The Current Emperor” (今上天皇 kinjo tenno)

After death, Emperors are formally renamed to the name of their reign. Hence, we refer to the previous emperor as the Showa Emperor (although he is of course better known to history as Emperor Hirohito). You should not refer to a living emperor by his reign name as it would be something akin to wishing him dead.

Other Calendars and Year Systems in Japan

Only Japanese calendar and Gregorian (sometimes called AD or CE) calendar years are acceptable in Japan. If you have documents written in other systems, such as Buddhist, Coptic Christian, or Islamic calendar years that you need to submit in Japan, you will have to convert those and/or include a note explaining the discrepancy in years.

One example I used to see regularly was school records from Ethiopia (Coptic Christian calendar) submitted to Japanese universities. These caused significant confusion.

If you are having your records translated, do not expect a translator in Japan to know the difference in date systems and convert the dates for you automatically. You will probably have to explain it to him or her.

Special Years: When the Era Changes

The year that the era changes will have two possible designations in the Japanese calendar. In this case, you will decide which era to use based on the month and day.

For example, the Showa Emperor passed away on January 7, 1989, the 64th year of his reign. Therefore, January 1-7 1989 would be the year Showa 64. January 8 – December 31, 1989 is the year Heisei 1, called Heisei gannen (平成元年) in Japanese.

Nobody is likely to get very picky about this, so you don’t need to worry too much. This note is just for those of us who like to be extra precise!

Create Your Own Japanese Calendar Years Conversion Chart

Chances are good that you won’t ever need to refer to more than a handful of years: Your birth year, your spouse and children’s birth years, your marriage year, and the current year.

I recommend writing each of these in an Evernote note or on a business card-sized piece of paper and keeping them with you for quick reference. I have a business card-sized template you can complete and print by signing up for my free mailing list. You’ll also get a weekly update whenever I have new content and guides available.

For the rare occasions that you’ll need more years, such as writing your resume, bookmark this article and the table below.

Japanese Calendar Year Conversion Chart

Western Year
(AD/CE)
Japanese Calendar
Era and Year
Notes
Meiji Era  Written: 明治 (Sometimes 明 or M)
1868 明治 1 or 明治元年 From Oct 23, 1868 (Jan 1 – Oct 22 was 慶応 (Keiou) 3
1869 明治 2  
1870 明治 3  
1871 明治 4  
1872 明治 5  
1873 明治 6  
1874 明治 7  
1875 明治 8  
1876 明治 9  
1877 明治 10  
1878 明治 11  
1879 明治 12  
1880 明治 13  
1881 明治 14  
1882 明治 15  
1883 明治 16  
1884 明治 17  
1885 明治 18  
1886 明治 19  
1887 明治 20  
1888 明治 21  
1889 明治 22  
1890 明治 23  
1891 明治 24  
1892 明治 25  
1893 明治 26  
1894 明治 27  
1895 明治 28  
1896 明治 29  
1897 明治 30  
1898 明治 31  
1899 明治 32  
1900 明治 33  
1901 明治 34  
1902 明治 35  
1903 明治 36  
1904 明治 37  
1905 明治 38  
1906 明治 39  
1907 明治 40  
1908 明治 41  
1909 明治 42  
1910 明治 43  
1911 明治 44  
1912 明治 45 Through July 30, 1912
Taisho Era  Written: 大正 (Sometimes 大 or T)
1912 大正 1 or 大正元年 From July 31, 1912
1913 大正 2  
1914 大正 3  
1915 大正 4  
1916 大正 5  
1917 大正 6  
1918 大正 7  
1919 大正 8  
1920 大正 9  
1921 大正 10  
1922 大正 11  
1923 大正 12  
1924 大正 13  
1925 大正 14  
1926 大正 15 Through December 25, 1926
Showa Era  Written: 昭和 (Sometimes 昭 or S)
1926 昭和 1 or 昭和元年 From December 26, 1926
1927 昭和 2  
1928 昭和 3  
1929 昭和 4  
1930 昭和 5  
1931 昭和 6  
1932 昭和 7  
1933 昭和 8  
1934 昭和 9  
1935 昭和 10  
1936 昭和 11  
1937 昭和 12  
1938 昭和 13  
1939 昭和 14  
1940 昭和 15  
1941 昭和 16  
1942 昭和 17  
1943 昭和 18  
1944 昭和 19  
1945 昭和 20  
1946 昭和 21  
1947 昭和 22  
1948 昭和 23  
1949 昭和 24  
1950 昭和 25  
1951 昭和 26  
1952 昭和 27  
1953 昭和 28  
1954 昭和 29  
1955 昭和 30  
1956 昭和 31  
1957 昭和 32  
1958 昭和 33  
1959 昭和 34  
1960 昭和 35  
1961 昭和 36  
1962 昭和 37  
1963 昭和 38  
1964 昭和 39  
1965 昭和 40  
1966 昭和 41  
1967 昭和 42  
1968 昭和 43  
1969 昭和 44  
1970 昭和 45  
1971 昭和 46  
1972 昭和 47  
1973 昭和 48  
1974 昭和 49  
1975 昭和 50  
1976 昭和 51  
1977 昭和 52  
1978 昭和 53  
1979 昭和 54  
1980 昭和 55  
1981 昭和 56  
1982 昭和 57  
1983 昭和 58  
1984 昭和 59  
1985 昭和 60  
1986 昭和 61  
1987 昭和 62  
1988 昭和 63  
1989 昭和 64 Through January 7, 1989
Heisei Era  Written: 平成 (Sometimes 平 or H)
1989 平成 1 or 平成元年 From January 8, 1989
1990 平成 2  
1991 平成 3  
1992 平成 4  
1993 平成 5  
1994 平成 6  
1995 平成 7  
1996 平成 8  
1997 平成 9  
1998 平成 10  
1999 平成 11  
2000 平成 12  
2001 平成 13  
2002 平成 14  
2003 平成 15  
2004 平成 16  
2005 平成 17  
2006 平成 18  
2007 平成 19  
2008 平成 20  
2009 平成 21  
2010 平成 22  
2011 平成 23  
2012 平成 24  
2013 平成 25  
2014 平成 26  
2015 平成 27  
2016 平成 28  
2017 平成 29  

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