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What is Heisei? – Understanding a Date in the Japanese Calendar

In Japan, there are currently two main calendar systems used, mainly differentiated by the year of reference. What you would already be familiar is the 西暦 (sei-reki – Anno Domini/Common Era) which uses a reference from around 2000 years ago. For example, at the time of writing, we are in 2014 A.D. (or C.E.).

The alternative year reference used in Japan is the 年号 (nen-gou – era name) which is pegged to the reign of the Emperors. The current era is the Heisei Era and this is the 26th year of the current Emperor’s reign, hence 2014 A.D. is the same year as Heisei 26. You may find some forms requiring such a field although leeway is often given even if you write the western year.

However, there exists a slight complication in the fact that the dates generally are not supposed to overlap and the reign of the Emperors do not start at a fixed day in the year. If you refer to the table below, you might already notice that the end of an era and the start of the next era fall on the same year (e.g. Taisho 1 and Meiji 45 both refer to 1912).

So which is the correct reference? Basically, all you have to do is to look at the start date of the era (2nd row), and that would be the day of transition. I.e. Any date before 30 July 1912 is Meiji 45, while anything after is Taisho 1.

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

If you are looking for dates of holidays in Japan instead, refer to this.

*Feature image credits: geraldford (CC license)

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