Japan uses two calendar systems. One is the Gregorian calendar, the most widely used calendar around the world. The other is the Japanese calendar. 2019 is going to a special year in Japan. Let me tell you why.

About the Japanese calendar

First-time visitors to Japan may be confused by the calendar system. Japanese people do use the year 2018, 2019, etc. But they also use a unique Japanese calendar and date system.

The Japanese calendar system is called the nengo (年号) system. Since 1912, each era coincides with the reign of each emperor. Nengo are the official dates used in Japan, and you will find it in most businesses.

The year 2018 is part of the Heisei (平成) era. This is the name that was announced when the emperor ascended the throne. Before this was Showa (昭和), which lasted 64 years. Before that was Taisho (大正), which lasted 15 years. And before that was the famous Meiji (明治), which ended in 1912.

This means that people born in 1912 or earlier were born during the Meiji period! They will be over 100 years old, but Japan is known for having a long life expectancy, so I’m sure there are still people alive. It’s a little mind-boggling to think there are still people alive who were born during the Meiji period and have lived through five eras (assuming they see the new emperor ascend in 2019).

How to read the Japanese calendar

To an outsider, the Japanese calendar doesn’t follow a regular pattern. Numbers repeat starting from one, and each year has a name. It may seem confusing at first, but it all makes sense once you understand how to read the dates.

Each year has two parts: a name and a number. For example, the year 2018 is Heisei 30 Nen (平成30年). Heisei is the official name of the era. Each era begins when a new emperor takes the throne. This means the ruling emperor in 2018 ascended the throne 30 years ago (in January 1989). Nen means year.

Even Japanese people can’t always remember past dates. That’s why there are conversion tables in offices and daily planners. The conversion chart has the Gregorian year beside the Japanese year, so you can quickly find the year you’re looking for.

You should try to remember your birth year though, since you will need to write in on official documents. Use this chart to find the Japanese year you were born. In the example below, someone who was born in 1994 turns 25 in 2018, so they were born in Heisei 6 Nen.


Why will 2019 be special

As of 2018, the emperor’s health is failing and he has requested to abdicate the throne. This is not customary, and usually the emperor must remain in power until he (or she?) passes away. However, his wish to step down has been granted, and his son, the Crown Prince Naruhito, will take over in 2019.

This is kind of a big deal.

2019 will mark a new era of Japanese history.

What’s going to happen in 2019?

In 2019, the emperor of Japan will change, and a new era will begin.

The changing of the emperor will happen on April 30, 2019. The new emperor will take over on May 1, 2019. This will be the end of the Heisei period and the beginning of a new one. The name of the next period has not been announced yet. It would be considered impolite to talk about the next era when the current emperor is still in power. Makes sense.

The years will also start over at one. From May 1, the Japanese year will be whatever-the-new-name-is 1. 2020 will be the year 2, and so on. If you happen to born between January 1 and April 30 in 2019, your birth year will still be Heisei 31. But people born after May 1, 2019, will be born in new-name 1.

Some interesting things will happen in 2019

A few interesting things will happen in 2019 because of the new era.

Longer Golden Week

For one, Golden Week will be longer than normal. It will a ten-day block from April 27 to May 6 to allow for the ceremonies and celebrations to take place. For anyone living in Japan, this means a longer break from work during Golden Week.

“Emperor’s Birthday” public holiday

There’s also a regular public holiday that happens on December 23 every year. The holiday is the Emperor’s Birthday, and it is in fact the birthday of the Heisei emperor.

This means that when the next emperor takes over, the holiday will move to another date. The birthday of the 2019 emperor is February 23. February 23 will be a new public holiday, and December 23 will no longer be a public holiday.

This is all fine enough, except the timing of the each emperors birthday are outside their reign. So in 2019 there will be no Emperor’s Birthday public holiday. February 23 will become a public holiday starting in 2020.

Enthronement ceremony

October 22, 2019, will be the final enthronement ceremony of the new emperor. This will mark the end of the transition between the emperors. It will also be a public holiday.

Conclusion

2019 will be a special year in Japan because it will mark the end of the Heisei era and the beginning of a new era. There will be a new name, and the years will start over from one. There will be a few extra holidays during Golden Week while the new emperor takes over.

It is an exciting and historical year in Japan, and I am anxiously waiting to find out what the new era will be called. I hope you are too.

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