Japan Guide: The One about Japanese Calendar Years for Modern Japan

When I’m in Japan, one of the things that can really stump Japanese is when you ask them what year they were born?  What year was the structure or business started?

In the US, we are used to going by a year such as:  This person was born in 1979.  That structure was build in 1907.

But in Japan, it’s different.  Their year is based on when the emperor has began their rule.

So, for Modern Japan: 1867-1912 (Meiji Era), 1912-1926 (Taisho Era), 1926-1989 (Showa Era) and 1989-Present (Heisei Era).

Now anything before the Meiji Era is complicated because Japanese calendar names used different names.  For example, Emperor Komei ruled between 1846-1867.  1844-1847 is the Koka Era, 1848-1853 is the Kaei era, 1854-1859 is the Ansei Era, 1860 is the Man’en era, 1861 is the Bunkyu era, 1864 is the Genji Era and 1865 is the Keio Era.

So, I think for most westerners, it’s easier to understand Meiji, Taisho, Showa and Heisei.

So, when you ask someone what year, they will give you the Japanese calendar year.

I asked someone who owns a family business of what year their parents opened their shop and he said Showa 18 which was 1943.

Truthfully, no one from Japan will expect you to know the Japanese calendar years.  Although, some may expect you to know your blood type, which many Americans probably don’t know offhand.

But for recent years and communicating with Japanese, sometimes it does help to know the Japanese calendar years.  Especially if you are asking questions in relation to what year certain events happened or what year was someone born or something built.

Hope this guide helps.


Heisei Era (1989-Present)

According to Wikipedia: Akihito (Born on December 22, 1993) is the Emperor of Japan. He is the 125th Emperor of his line according to Japan’s traditional order of succession. Akihito succeeded to the Chrysanthemum Throne upon his father Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito)’s death on January 7, 1989. Akihito is expected to abdicate in late March 2019. . The Era of Akihito’s reign bears the name “Heisei” (平成), and according to custom he will be renamed “Emperor Heisei” (平成天皇 Heisei Tennō, see “posthumous name”) by order of the Cabinet after his death. At the same time, the name of the next era under his successor will be established. If the Emperor were to abdicate, he would receive the title of Jōkō (上皇), an abbreviation of Daijō Tennō (太上天皇, Retired Emperor), and a new era would be established.

2018 Heisei 30 2003 Heisei 15
2017 Heisei 29 2002 Heisei 14
2016 Heisei 28 2001 Heisei 13
2015 Heisei 27 2000 Heisei 12
2014 Heisei 26 1999 Heisei 11
2013 Heisei 25 1998 Heisei 10
2012 Heisei 24 1997 Heisei 9
2011 Heisei 23 1996 Heisei 8
2010 Heisei 22 1995 Heisei 7
2009 Heisei 21 1994 Heisei 6
2008 Heisei 20 1993 Heisei 5
2007 Heisei 19 1992 Heisei 4
2006 Heisei 18 1991 Heisei 3
2005 Heisei 17 1990 Heisei 2
2004 Heisei 16 1989 Heisei 1 / Showa 64

Showa Era (1926-1989)

According to Wikipedia: Hirohito (裕仁, April 29, 1901 – January 7, 1989) was the 124th Emperor of Japan according to the traditional order of succession, reigning from December 25, 1926, until his death. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Akihito. In Japan, he is now referred to primarily by his posthumous name, Emperor Shōwa (昭和天皇 Shōwa-tennō). The word Shōwa is the name of the era that corresponded with the Emperor’s reign, and was made the Emperor’s own name upon his death.

1989 Showa 64 / Heisei 1 1957 Showa 32
1988 Showa 63 1956 Showa 31
1987 Showa 62 1955 Showa 30
1986 Showa 61 1954 Showa 29
1985 Showa 60 1953 Showa 28
1984 Showa 59 1952 Showa 27
1983 Showa 58 1951 Showa 26
1982 Showa 57 1950 Showa 25
1981 Showa 56 1949 Showa 24
1980 Showa 55 1948 Showa 23
1979 Showa 54 1947 Showa 22
1978 Showa 53 1946 Showa 21
1977 Showa 52 1945 Showa 20
1976 Showa 51 1944 Showa 19
1975 Showa 50 1943 Showa 18
1974 Showa 49 1942 Showa 17
1973 Showa 48 1941 Showa 16
1972 Showa 47 1940 Showa 15
1971 Showa 46 1939 Showa 14
1970 Showa 45 1938 Showa 13
1969 Showa 44 1937 Showa 12
1968 Showa 43 1936 Showa 11
1967 Showa 42 1935 Showa 10
1966 Showa 41 1934 Showa 9
1965 Showa 40 1933 Showa 8
1964 Showa 39 1932 Showa 7
1963 Showa 38 1931 Showa 6
1962 Showa 37 1930 Showa 5
1961 Showa 36 1929 Showa 4
1960 Showa 35 1928 Showa 3
1959 Showa 34 1927 Showa 2
1958 Showa 33 1926 Showa 1 / Taisho 15

Taisho Era (1912-1926)

According to Wikipedia: Emperor Taishō (大正天皇 Taishō-tennō, 31 August 1879 – 25 December 1926) was the 123rd Emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession, reigning from 30 July 1912 until his death in 1926. The Emperor’s personal name was Yoshihito (嘉仁). According to Japanese custom, during the reign the emperor is called the (present) Emperor. After death he is known by a posthumous name that, according to a practice dating to 1912, is the name of the era coinciding with his reign. Having ruled during the Taishō period, he is posthumously known as “The Taishō Emperor” or simply “Emperor Taishō”.

1926 Taisho 15 / Showa 1 1918 Taisho 7
1925 Taisho 14 1917 Taisho 6
1924 Taisho 13 1916 Taisho 5
1923 Taisho 12 1915 Taisho 4
1922 Taisho 11 1914 Taisho 3
1921 Taisho 10 1913 Taisho 2
1920 Taisho 9 1912 Taisho 1

Meiji Era (1867-1912)

According to Wikipedia:  Emperor Meiji (明治天皇 Meiji-tennō, November 3, 1852 – July 30, 1912), or Meiji the Great (明治大帝 Meiji-taitei), was the 122nd Emperor of Japan according to the traditional order of succession, reigning from February 3, 1867 until his death on July 30, 1912. He presided over a time of rapid change in the Empire of Japan, as the nation quickly changed from an isolationist feudal state to a capitalist and imperial world power, characterized by the Japanese industrial revolution.

In Japan, the reigning Emperor is always referred to as “The Emperor”; since the modern era, a deceased Emperor is referred to by a posthumous name, which is the name of the era coinciding with the Emperor’s reign. Having ruled during the Meiji period, the Emperor is thus posthumously known as “the Meiji Emperor” or simply “Emperor Meiji”. His personal name, which is not used in any formal or official context, except for his signature, was Mutsuhito .