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Time in Japan: Era Names, Regnal Years, and Imperial Years
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Bethetsu
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 19, 2012 9:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Tatsunoshi wrote:
one would presume the crafty 'Emperor Shogun' might have had his envoy bring two sets of papers-each one using the appropriate Chinese nengo, and was prepared for either one to be in power upon their arrival in China.
Yes. According to an article by Sekishûichi 関周一 in Rekishi Dokuhon in Jan. 2008, Yoshimitsu prepared two missives, one with 建文 and the other with 永楽.

According to Seki, the story went like this:
The first Ming emperor, the Hongwu Emperor, established his dynasty in 1368. In contrast to the Mongols, he restricted trade. He invited the kings of the surrounding nations to enter into a tributary relationship with him, which wold allow them to trade with China. In negotiations, they would of course use the Chinese nengo, 洪武. In principle, the Chinese dealt only with representatives of such kings, not their subjects.

From his first year Hangwu sent representatives to Japan, but it ws in the middle of the Nanboku-cho civil war. Most of the envoys in the first two attempts were killed, but in 1370 they managed to contact "良懐”the ruler of Dazaifu 太宰府 in northern Kyushu, and persuaded him to send tribute to China. This 良懐 was probably Prince Kaneyoshi 懐良親王, son of the southern emperor Godaigo, who was managing to hold on to Kyushu.
In 1371.10 his representative reached Nankin and was given a 詔書 naming him king of Japan and the Ming calendar, the Daitô 大統 calendar.
By the way, I wonder if this "calendar" was a copy of the procedures used to calculate the calendar used in China, in which case these various tributary countries would have to have very sophisticated calendar departments, or if it was a copy of the yearly calendar which would be sent to them each year, in which case I wonder if they would normally get it in time. The Japanese court did accept the Daitô calendar procedure in 1684--that will probably come up in a later thread.
In 1372.4 Ashikaga Yoshimitsu's man managed to occupy Dazaifu. In the 5th month, the Ming envoys with 良懐's shôsho reached there. So the Ming envoys decided to negotiate with Yoshimitsu, who glady sent representatives to Hangwu in 1374 and 1380, but Yoshimitsu was only a subject and the form of the letter was not formal enough, and Hangwu refused to deal with him.

Eventually Yoshimitsu retired. In 1401, after the death of Hangwu, he sent a letter to the new emperor, the Jianwen 建文 emperor, using an informal form and the Japanese nengo 応永. Jianwen, who was having trouble with his uncle was willing to accept this letter and in 1402.2.6 made him king of Japan and sent envoys back with Yoshimitsu's representatives. However, according to the Yoshida-ke Hinamiki 吉田日次記, when they were about to return to China with his acceptance letter to Jianwen in 1403.2, there were rumors that the Jianwen emperor had been driven out by the Yongle 永楽 emperor, but they could not be sure, so they prepared two different missives. Later that year Yoshimitsu's representative presented the letter to the winner, the Yongle emperor, and in 1403.11 the Yongle emperor replied with a letter and a seal, making him king of Japan. 日本国王之印. The first trading ship 勘合船went to the Ming the next year, 1404.

edit: It occurred to me that 永楽 did not start till the beginning of 1403, so how could Yoshimitsu have used it in his letter early in 1403? But in the Qing time at least, with normal succession, the new era was considered to begin with the actual ascension, but did not take effect as a date till the next year. For example, in 1861, the nengô for the new emperor was declared as 祺祥, but by the end of the year the name had changed. Also I came across a Japanese reference that appears to be in 1850 to "the present 咸豊 era," so it appears the era names were announced before they actually took effect. So the Yongle emperor probably announced the name of his era soon after taking over in the middle of 1402, though it did not take effect as a nengo till the next year because he wanted to present himself as the natural successor to Hangwu.
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 9:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Year Dates in Japan
Some early mirrors and such with Chinese nengo have been found in Japan, especially some with the Gi 魏 nengo 景初3(239 AD), 景初 4 [non-existent nengo year](240) ,正始1(240), which of course ties in with a visit to Gi by the representatives of Himiko at the end of 239. Various hypotheses have been built up around these items, the dates on these items, where they were found, etc. The items with Chinese nengo all appear to have been imported.

The oldest Japanese-made items with characters on them are mid 5th century. The oldest with dates are the sword believed to be from the time of Yûryaku that bears the date 辛亥年七月中記、471 (though some think it is from 531) and a sword from a tomb that has 癸未 , probably 443 or 503, which show that the cycle was being used in Japan in the 5th century AD. Also, the wooden tablets (Mokkan木簡), which were the normal writing material, of the 6th century including the year 700, all use cyclical year dates when they give the year. (see http://www.nabunken.jp/Open/mokkan/mokkan1.html)
However, in 701 Emperor Monmu proclaimed the Taihô 大宝 nengo and issued the Taiho Code. From then on, nengo have continued without a break down to the present. There is a mokkan reading 太寶□〔元ヵ〕, and from then on year dates based on nengo are most common, both in inscriptions and on mokkan, though of course cyclic years also continued to be commonly used until into the Meiji period.

(To be continued.)
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 26, 2012 2:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
As is well known, Taihô was not the first Japanese nengo. According to the Nihon Shoki the first was Taika 大化 in 645. On 645/6/12-13 Prince Naka-no-Ôe staged a coup against the Soga, known as the Osshi (or Isshi) 乙子 no hen (not the Taika no hen) , and on the 14th the ruling empress retired in favor of her brother, Prince Karu, emperor Kôtoku. At the start of book 25 we have the date 天豊財重日足姫天皇四年六月庚戌, i.e. Kôgyoku 4 (645)/6/14, but on the 19th, "the 4th year of Ame-toyo-takara-ikshi-hi-tarashi-hime Tennô was changed to the first year of Taika 大化元年", and the next entry is dated as Taika 1, autumn, 7th month…大化元年秋七月. On the next New Year's Day, which fortunately happened to be a cyclic day 1 甲子 (he didn't want to wait 20 years for a 甲子 year!) Naka-no-Ôe announced the Taika Reforms.

Q19 Why would Naka-no-Ôe have decided to have nengo at this point?

Q20 The Shoki says two more nengo were promulgated before 700. What were they and what was their occasion?
Q21 How does the Shoki treat the beginning and ending of these nengo with respect to the emperor's accession and the beginning of the year? How is this different from the later usage?

I use the text at www.j-texts.com/jodai/shokiall.html
If you can search a web page with your browser it is very handy, and since this is about dates, if you know kanji, you don't have to know Chinese. The dates in brackets at the head of each entry are those of the editor.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2012 3:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Bethetsu wrote:
Q19 Why would Naka-no-Ôe have decided to have nengo at this point?


Since the Taika Reforms involved importing a lot of governmental philosophies and techniques from China, it would have made sense to adopt nengo (as they were part of the 'Chinese' package). It also probably helped to emphasize that this was a new era and things were going to be done differently.

Bethetsu wrote:
Q20 The Shoki says two more nengo were promulgated before 700. What were they and what was their occasion?


The Hakuho (Hakuchi) Era from 650-54, so named because someone presented the court with a white pheasant, and the conversation that surrounded it centered on what a good omen this was (using copious stories from China)-so the pheasant was let loose in the Imperial garden and the incident commemorated by the nengo Hakuho (white bird).

Then Shucho Era in 686. It means 'Vermillion Bird' and represents the guardian Vermillion Bird of the South in Chinese mythology/astrology and represents fire and summer. I wasn't able to find an entry in my Aston version of the Nihongi that explained why it was adopted, but there had been problems including an earthquake (and also the whole thing with Temmu wielding Kusanagi). The Red Bird is said to show up at the start of a new era when good times are on the way, so maybe they were just looking to change their luck. Interestingly, the bird is associated with Empresses and it was an Empress that took over when Temmu died (although the nengo Shucho basically died with him).

Bethetsu wrote:
Q21 How does the Shoki treat the beginning and ending of these nengo with respect to the emperor's accession and the beginning of the year? How is this different from the later usage?


Not exactly sure if this is what you're looking for, but it applies the nengo to the entire year in the text, like in 650 when the New Year is given the Hakuho 1 year although it wouldn't be proclaimed for a while.

Since new nengo weren't decreed at the end of either Hakuho or Shucho, it's hard to say exactly how the beginning/ends were treated. It appears that the nengos were used for the entire 'last year' (654 and 686) and the subsequent Empresses had their '1st years' (not using a nengo but a reign year) start at the beginning of the New Year, not when they took over late in the previous year. This is obviously different from now when a new nengo is immediately used as soon as the Emperor is enthroned.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2012 7:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Reason for the change to the Shuchô Era in 686.
According to Endo Keita 遠藤慶太 Rekishi Dokuhon Jan. 2008, the emperor was ill, and they were probably hoping the change would cure him. They also changed the name of the palace.

Q21 How does the Shoki treat the beginning and ending of these nengo with respect to the emperor's accession and the beginning of the year? How is this different from the later usage?
By "these nengo," I was thinking of all three of the Shoki nengo.
Of course, it is hard to say one case is a pattern, but the Shoki seems to tie the nengo to the emperor more closely than later practice until Meiji. The Shoki does not consider that Taika started until the reign of Kôtoku, and calls the first part of the year, the 4th year of Ame-toyo-takara-ikshi-hi-tarashi-hime Tennô. Hakuchi and Shuchô are treated retroactively, but it is the same reign.
I looked at the Shoku Nihon Shoki. (http://www.j-texts.com/) In contrast, in Vol. 6 they have Reki 1 (715) 霊亀元年春正月甲申朔。even though it was still Wadô and the reign of Genmei. In volume 7, after the death of Genmei they have 其改和銅八年。為霊亀元年。So the editors are willing to use a dai-hajime nengo during the reign of the predecessor.
Furthermore, it may be too obvious to mention, but as you noted, in the two cases in the Shoki, the nengo basically died with the emperor. This is in obvious contrast with later practice where the nengo keeps going until replaced. Of course, we don't know what they did for the rest of the year after the emperor died. My guess is they stopped using the nengô, but that cyclical years not nengo were still used for most purposes, so it did not cause much problem.

For Hakuchi 白雉/Hakuhô 白鳳, the Nihon Shoki has Hakuchi, but according to the Kojien,the Shoku Nihon Shoki 9 seems to call it Hakuhô 白鳳以来朱雀以前. Now Hakuhô usually refers to an art period end of 7th, beginning of 8th century.


Last edited by Bethetsu on Tue Feb 28, 2012 3:01 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2012 7:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Bethetsu wrote:
...the emperor was ill, and they were probably hoping the change would cure him...


That makes sense, and ties into the whole idea that the Kusanagi sword was responsible for his death by 'cursing' him after he had the temerity to wield it. It has been a while since I read the Nihon-gi and I had forgotten how whacked-out parts of it are...like the entry preceding one of the nengo entires that described how a serpent and a dog copulated and then both died.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 29, 2012 8:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
According to the Rekishi Dokuhon article, some historians believe that the Taika nengo, in fact, even the Taika Reform was an invention of the Shoki. The reasons are that unlike the other early Japanese nengo which generally referred to potents, Taika was a Chinese concept "A ruler's virtue has great influence" from the Book of Documents.
Also there are no external references to it, while there are a mokkan and an inscription from the period which have only have cyclic years. The inscription is on a statue in the Horyuji with the cyclic date for 651.
The Naniwa Mokkan has ○戊申年( 648 Taika 4) http://mokuren.nabunken.jp

Endô responds that since Silla had abstract nengo during the period, as of course did China, it would not be strange if Japan did also; rather it was innovative of Japan to use omens for nengo.
Furthermore, just because they proclaimed a nengo doesn't necessarily mean that at this stage there was a legal requirement at this time that they had to use it, though later the Taihô-rei apparently did require the use of nengo.

Endo did not mention the mokkan found in Ashiya, Hyogo-ken, that Nagaeyari brought up in an earlier thread. It has "3" followed by the cyclic year for 652.○三壬子年. The 3 would match Hakuchi 3. It does not say "Hakuchi," but even as late as the Heisei period one can find the use of a number without a nengo.
http://www.hyogo-koukohaku.jp/collection/p6krdf0000000w01.html
So, it is reasonable to think that the three Shoki nengo were promulgated, but the use of nengo did not really catch on and start replacing cyclic years until Taihô.

Of course China was the founder of nengo, but Koguryo in the 4th century used them, and Silla started using nengo in  536, perhaps as a sign of independence from Koguryo. But when it got closer to China at the beginning of the Tang period, Tang remonstrated with it, and in 650 it started using the Tang nengô.

Happy Leap Day, (still at least in the Home of SA)

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 3:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Reign Years
Anyone who works with Japanese history has to understand nengo. However, even serious students of Japanese history sometimes do not know how the year dates of the period of the Nihon Shoki work. When I was working on the SA Wiki article on "year dates" I was getting really confused until I got hold of a copy of Aston's translation of the Shoki and really looked at the material.
The Shoki uses nengô for only a few years and has a few cyclic year dates. By far most of the dates in the Shoki are reign years, such as the "48th year of Waka-tarashi-hiko tennô" 稚足彦天皇四十八年 or "the 4th year of Ame-toyo-takara-ikshi-hi-tarashi-hime tennô" 天豊財重日足姫天皇四年. In the chronology of each reign this is normally abbreviated to just "48th year", "4th year", etc., but one can sometimes find full names of the predecessor with the year in the section for each emperor which lists some of the relevant events before his or her first year 元年 .

Q22 For the Shoki reign years, what conventions are used with respect to the time of accession, New Year's Day, and the 1st year? How is this the same or different with various conventions we have discussed on this thread? What may have influenced them to use this convention?

Q23 This is something I have wondered about, and I hope someone can tell me. As I mentioned above, the Shoki gives the emperors names like Waka-tarashi-hiko or Ame-toyo-takara-ikashi-hi-tarashi-hime. However, at some point some kind soul decided to have mercy on future historians, especially gaijin historians, and gave the emperors short names, so now the standard way of referring to the Shoki dates is Seimu 48 or Kôgyoku 4. Who was this kind soul? After that until Meiji, who determined the standard names used for subsequent emperors? Just for the record, who has determined the name from Meiji on? What is the term for this standard name that emperors are known by? (I.e. Seimu is the _______ name of Waka-tarashi-hiko.)
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 06, 2012 3:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Bethetsu wrote:
Q22 For the Shoki reign years, what conventions are used with respect to the time of accession, New Year's Day, and the 1st year? How is this the same or different with various conventions we have discussed on this thread? What may have influenced them to use this convention?


It appears that they numbered the 1st year of accession starting with the New Year after the accession. This is different than reckoned now since the Emperor's first year is considered to start the second he takes office (and also is largely the case in pre-Meiji times). They were likely following the Chinese lead on this (although as we've discussed there were exceptions in the Chinese system). There were some strange cases, especially where early nengo were used (like 686 where the nengo Shucho died with the Emperor late in the year, but Jito-Tenno 1 didn't start until 687-leaving the question what the remaining months of 686 are).

Bethetsu wrote:
Q23 This is something I have wondered about, and I hope someone can tell me. As I mentioned above, the Shoki gives the emperors names like Waka-tarashi-hiko or Ame-toyo-takara-ikashi-hi-tarashi-hime. However, at some point some kind soul decided to have mercy on future historians, especially gaijin historians, and gave the emperors short names, so now the standard way of referring to the Shoki dates is Seimu 48 or Kôgyoku 4. Who was this kind soul? After that until Meiji, who determined the standard names used for subsequent emperors? Just for the record, who has determined the name from Meiji on? What is the term for this standard name that emperors are known by? (I.e. Seimu is the _______ name of Waka-tarashi-hiko.)


As far as the 'fill in the blank', you could use teigo (Emperor name-although I've also seen okurina used) or in English 'posthumous'. From Meiji on, the Emperor name always mirrors the nengo by decree of the Japanese cabinet (I'm assuming that court officials/Imperial Household Agency come up with the nengo?). Before that...well, it seems it would have been the purview of the court officials.

Sorry, no idea who came up with the idea of Emperor names in the first place Wink .
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2012 11:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Bethetsu: What convention is used in the Shoki for numbering reign years?
Tatsunoshi:
It appears that they numbered the 1st year of accession starting with the New Year after the accession.

Yes.
There were various Chinese models, but the Shoki is dealing with reign years, not nengo, so they would have to go back a long time in Chinese history to find those. My guess is that the editors of the Shoki, who were trying to write a formal work of history, were following the model of the Spring and Autumn Annals, since that was the most classic work that used reign years. That is only a guess though..

Q 24 Kan-yamato-iware-biko (also known as Jinmu) was the first emperor, so the Shoki could not date by his predecessor. What was used for the year name in the period between his accession and his "first year" 元年?


Recently there was a thread on Tenchi 6 which brought up something that I had never thought about or read about, though I am sure it has been widely discussed by scholars.
The Shoki uses reign years, but were reign years actually used in the court for records, or did the Shoki editors decide to use reign years and normalize the year dates in their material ? (Of course, they must have made up many dates to get a proper Chinese history.)
My first reaction was that the court would have needed reign years for its own records, but now I have looked at the matter more carefully.

First, the mokkan and inscriptions we have for the period use just cyclic years. I searched the data base http://www.nabunken.jp/Open/mokkan/mokkan1.html
There are 21 dated mokkan before 701, mostly from the reign of Tenmu , and the only one that includes a number is the one from Hakuchi 3, which of course is a nengo year, not a reign year. China had not used regnal years for centuries, so the early court probably would not have have thought of using them. For dates far in the past, they probably just said "the XX year in the time of Emperor YY", though they probably also kept track of the Chinese nengo for dealing with China.
Also a grave marker of 武寧王 or 斯麻王 of the Korean kingdom of (Paekche )百済 gives the cyclic date for his death date, 523. So I think it likely that most of the records in the Japanese court used cyclic years, but the Shoki editorsnormalized them into reign years, which are essentially "historians' years," not the year dates used at the time.
Q25 Does anyone have any ideas on this question?

On the thread "What's in a Date?",
http://forums.samurai-archives.com/viewtopic.php?t=5126&start=90
it was pointed out that a dictionary used the same system for the reign years of Okinawan kings in the Edo period -- reign years with the first year the year after the accession. But I wonder who used it. Is this the system actually used by the Okinawan court, or the years of traditional Okinawan historians, or of modern "nationailists," or of modern historians just trying to get a standard year date. Maybe sometime we can get answers. (By the way, I learned again that we have to be careful when we look up reign years of a ruler. Traditionally we get his "first year," not the actual accession year, although sometimes we do get the latter. One needs to check the date of death of the previous ruler.)



Back to the Shoki, I noticed something interesting. Book 27 deals with the reign of Tenji. For several years after his accession at the death of Seimei in 661 he kept the title of "Crown Prince." The book has "gannen" for the year after his accession (662), then says he was enthroned in year 7. 七年春正月丙戌朔戊子。皇太子即天皇位. The following year is is dated the 8th year, 八年春正月庚辰朔戊子, and he dies in the 10th year (671). So Book 27 handles the year dates as an ordinary accession after the death of Seimei. However, Book 28 gives his illness as as year 4 四年冬十月庚辰。天皇臥病, shortly after which he dies. The following year (672) is the 1st year of Tenmu, as expected, ignoring the reign of Kôbun, who was proclaimed emperor in 1870.
Q26 What do you think might be going on with year 4?
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 1:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Bethetsu wrote:
Q 24 Kan-yamato-iware-biko (also known as Jinmu) was the first emperor, so the Shoki could not date by his predecessor. What was used for the year name in the period between his accession and his "first year" 元年?


They went with the sexegenary cyclical year, in this case the 57th (7,9) year of the cycle, kanoe saru (庚申).

Bethetsu wrote:
Q26 What do you think might be going on with year 4?


It seems like the writer of Book 27 started counting from his accession and the writer of 28 counted only the years of his official 'reign' (with his enthronement in 1668). Since the Nihongi was very much a collaborative effort, it seems that at the time there wasn't a standard accepted way of designating years and two different writers rendered it two different ways. The writer of 28 would also have had to have counted year one as starting in the same year as the official enthronement, not starting with the New Year.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 13, 2012 5:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Tatsunoshi wrote:

Bethetsu:Q 24 Kan-yamato-iware-biko (also known as Jinmu) was the first emperor, so the Shoki could not date by his predecessor. What was used for the year name in the period between his accession and his "first year" 元年?

They went with the sexegenary cyclical year, in this case the 57th (7,9) year of the cycle, kanoe saru (庚申).

Try again. You are doubly wrong.

Tatsunoshi wrote:

Bethetsu:Q26 What do you think might be going on with year 4?

It seems like the writer of Book 27 started counting from his accession and the writer of 28 counted only the years of his official 'reign' (with his enthronement in 1668). Since the Nihongi was very much a collaborative effort, it seems that at the time there wasn't a standard accepted way of designating years and two different writers rendered it two different ways. The writer of 28 would also have had to have counted year one as starting in the same year as the official enthronement, not starting with the New Year.

I think you are right that book 27 and 28 had two different editors. But I don't think that there was no standard accepted way of designating years, because the rule you gave above is elsewhere followed consistently as far as I know. It is just that Tenji was an unusual case, being a regent and later becoming emperor so they came up with two different policies for his year of accession. Also, maybe the editor of book 27 could not come up with a better idea than starting after the death of Seimei.
For Tenji's gannen being 668 instead of 669, Tenmu's gannen was normal, so I don't think it was a different policy. Perhaps as Tenji became emperor on the 3rd day of the year, that was considered the same as the beginning of the year. At least some manuscripts have a note in book 27 that his accession was in the 3rd month of the previous year 667, apparently at the time of changing capitals:〈或本云。六年歳次丁卯三月、即位。〉So maybe the editor of book 28 knew or assumed that the actual accession was in 667 even if the ceremony was in 668. I even played around with the idea that Tenji himself tried using reign years with a gannen in 668, but that seems to involve too many assumptions to be a serious theory.So there is a lot we don't know. ( Smile or Sad ?)
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2012 2:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Bethetsu wrote:
Try again. You are doubly wrong.


Well, that's certainly nothing new Laughing .

Let's see...Jimmu's gannen was 660 BC-I took it he ascended in 661, the kanoe saru year (since I didn't have my copy of the Nihongi handy). But I see now he is supposed to have 'assumed the Imperial dignity' in 660 on the first day of the first month. So if his accession is then, there is no period between his accession and first year-they both begin on the same day.

Did he 'ascend' before this? He was made 'Imperial Prince' at age 15 and (if I'm interpreting it correctly) was 45 when the first named year is mentioned-kinoe tora, 667 BC. All the years from then to 660 that are named use the sexegenary cycle. I didn't have time to carefully read through the text for Jimmu to 660, but it doesn't appear it has him making any sort of declaration that he has ascended. If you consider him to have ascended at age 15, then it would still, in theory, be the 21st 'kinoe saru' year, and every year in between using the sexegenary cycle.

So am I missing something really obvious? Unless you want to call it 'the Age of the Gods (Kamiyo)'.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2012 9:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Just popping my head in.

I suppose my first reaction of 辛酉 (Shin'yuu) wouldn't be correct?
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2012 8:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Q 24 Kan-yamato-iware-biko (also known as Jinmu) was the first emperor, so the Shoki could not date by his predecessor. What was used for the year name in the period between his accession and his "first year" 元年?

Tatsunoshi wrote:
But I see now he is supposed to have 'assumed the Imperial dignity' in 660 on the first day of the first month. So if his accession is then, there is no period between his accession and first year-they both begin on the same day.
That is it. Very Happy (I see you found the other mistake yourself.)
The Shoki has 《神武天皇元年(辛酉前六六〇)正月庚辰朔》辛酉年春正月庚辰朔。天皇即帝位於橿原宮。是歳為天皇元年。 (the part in brackets at the beginning is the editor.)
So his accession was in 辛酉年 (Shin'yuu), which became his first year元年. As he ascended on New Year's Day, they didn't have to wait for the new year.


Q 27 Meiji ended and Taisho started on July 30, 1912. Taisho ended and Showa started on Dec. 25, 1926. However, Showa ended Jan. 7, 1989, but Heisei didn't start till Jan 8. Exactly at midnight the NHK screen changed from Jan. 7 Showa 64 to Jan. 8, Heisei 1. In one list of gengo it said the era really started on Jan. 7 改元, but it did not take effect until the 8th 執行. Why was the system changed? I could not find anything on that. My first reaction is that it is a concession to the computer age. Any ideas or, even better, knowledge?
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2012 9:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Bethetsu wrote:
Q 27 Meiji ended and Taisho started on July 30, 1912. Taisho ended and Showa started on Dec. 25, 1926. However, Showa ended Jan. 7, 1989, but Heisei didn't start till Jan 8. Exactly at midnight the NHK screen changed from Jan. 7 Showa 64 to Jan. 8, Heisei 1. In one list of gengo it said the era really started on Jan. 7 改元, but it did not take effect until the 8th 執行. Why was the system changed? I could not find anything on that. My first reaction is that it is a concession to the computer age. Any ideas or, even better, knowledge?


No "knowledge", but my guess is, living in a digital age when everything runs at to-the-second timing, it was probably decided they needed a specific point in time that it switched from Showa to Heisei. Even in the 1920's, people didn't run on precise time--analog watches and clocks aren't synchronized the way computer systems and television viewers are. Even though radio would have been around in 1926, people weren't slaves to the exact timing of things like radio programs like they are today (and were in 1989) of television programming. "Time" as a concept, became more precisely defined, and for a society where everyone had a digital watch and television and industry ran on computers, even if they weren't yet in people's homes to a great degree, there needed to be a specific point at which things switched over. Midnight is already a switching point, from one day to the next, and so provides an easy mental break that people can deal with. Changing the nengo at 4:30, for instance, would have gone against the way people in the 1980's (and now) are conditioned to deal with time period changes.

In other words, in 1926, you would see the era name changed by reading the paper the next day--it didn't matter when it specifically did, only that it had. In 1989, the specific time point mattered, and people would be watching to see the era change, just like they would at New Year's to see the years change. They had to know when to watch NHK to see it. Midnight provided a ready-made break in time periods that people were used to.
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2012 3:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Imperial Years

The last type of year date I will take up is "Imperial Years," in which the epoch was the first year 元年 of Kan-yamato-iware-biko, aka Jinmu. As was thoroughly discussed in the previous few posts, the Shoki dates this as 660 BC, and this is the date used as year 1 in this system.

Q 29 What are the Japanese terms for imperial years? Does anyone know the official English term?

Q 30 When was this dating first officially used?

Q 31 Imperial years are sometimes used at the beginning of year calendars or almanacs along with nengo, but I have never seen it used simply in a date. I can imagine that there are groups or individuals that do use it, though. Has anyone ever come across it?

Q 32 However, imperial years were used in a way that gave rise to a military term that even I know. What was this and how was it derived?
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 17, 2012 8:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Bethetsu wrote:
Imperial Years

The last type of year date I will take up is "Imperial Years," in which the epoch was the first year 元年 of Kan-yamato-iware-biko, aka Jinmu. As was thoroughly discussed in the previous few posts, the Shoki dates this as 660 BC, and this is the date used as year 1 in this system.

Q 29 What are the Japanese terms for imperial years? Does anyone know the official English term?

Q 30 When was this dating first officially used?

Q 31 Imperial years are sometimes used at the beginning of year calendars or almanacs along with nengo, but I have never seen it used simply in a date. I can imagine that there are groups or individuals that do use it, though. Has anyone ever come across it?

Q 32 However, imperial years were used in a way that gave rise to a military term that even I know. What was this and how was it derived?



Imperial Years were called 皇紀 (kouki) in Japan and were used from 1872 until the end of World War II when the occupying US Forces put an end to their use. I'm not sure what the official English term is.

I don't think this is what you're looking for, but the Japanese 'Zero' fighter plane got its name from Imperial Years. As we talked about in an earlier post, 1940 was a 'big year' in the Imperial Year system-it was year 2600. They used the last digit to name the plane.

Coincidentally enough, I was working with Japanese law enforcement recently and one of the court orders used Imperial years-I even asked one of their agents how the year was determined since it obviously wasn't Heisei 24. So it's still used by at least certain segments of the Japanese legal community.
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 18, 2012 8:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
In reply to Tatsu's post above

Q29 What are the Japanese terms for imperial years? Does anyone know the official English term?
Yes, it is called 皇紀 (kouki), also 紀元 kigen, a general term for epoch.

Q 30 When was this dating first officially used?
Yes, it was declared in 1872, and there was a celebration for it on 11.25 of that year. But when the occupying US forces put an end to their use, I still wonder what they were used for in practice. They certainly were not used for dates in general.

Q 31 Imperial years... Has anyone ever come across it?
Tatsu: I was working with Japanese law enforcement recently and one of the court orders used Imperial years-
Do you have any idea why that court order in particular used it? If you can say, what kind of court order was it? How was the date written? I saw a court order relating to guardianship once, but I don't remember anything about the date, so it was probably Heisei.

Q 32 However, imperial years were used in a way that gave rise to a military term that even I know. What was this and how was it derived?
Yes, the Zero is what I was thinking of.

Tatsu: As we talked about in an earlier post, 1940 was a 'big year' in the Imperial Year system-it was year 2600.
I saw a stella in a shrine commemorating 2601,though. I suppose because it was the 2600th anniversary, as the 1st anniversary would have been in Kigen 2.

Q 34 For the first calendar to use imperial years, look at the images at the bottom of this page.
http://www.ndl.go.jp/koyomi/e/history/02_index2.html
Note that while it has "Meiji 6" and the "2533th year of Jinmu", it does not give the cyclic year for that year, probably the first calendar in Japanese history not to do so. I have not come across anything that said cyclic years were officially out of use after that, but has anyone come across the official or semi-official (newspapers, etc.) use of cyclic years after 1872?
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 18, 2012 9:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Bethetsu wrote:
In reply to Tatsu's post above


I see where I rate... Neutral
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 1:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Q 31 Imperial years... Has anyone ever come across it?
Sometimes this Imperial year system is found on date inscriptions found on Japanese swords. John
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 2:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Bethetsu wrote:
If you can say, what kind of court order was it? How was the date written?


I can't say anything about the document, but the date was simply written as '二千六百七十二年’ along with the regular day and date。 No mention of Jimmu or kouki. It was handwritten with the signature of the official that signed the order, so it might have just been a personal affectation-but it was on all the documents, and they were signed by different officials. I'll check on the next round and maybe ask someone if it's an official thing. They did use the regular Heisei date on the front where it was typewritten.

They also had one of the old, old Japanese typewriters in the basement. Man, were those dinosaurs ever HUGE and unwieldy!

As far as post 1872 official documents that use the cycle-I've never seen it, but haven't really delved into that era much. I have seen some personal correspondence from the era (I now check on the dating for all the original documents I run across just to see what they used Laughing ) that still used it.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 5:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
I think you all can appreciate the following.

Below is a brief quotation from a book published in the past 10 years by an academic press. Review it.






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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 5:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
1) Imperial Years weren't discontinued in 1873 (more like 1945) and for that matter hadn't been in use before 1872.

2) Nengo weren't adopted in 645, although that's when the first one was apparently used. There were several gaps after that until 701.

3) Modern nengo don't start on January 1-they start whenever the new Emperor ascends the throne (or as we discussed, it looks like midnight the next day is now used).

4) I believe kigen/kouki is only used to refer to Imperial Years, not nengo.

5) There are 10 stems, not five-the article is just not counting the two versions of the basic five as being separate.

6) The Chinese calender was probably introduced to Japan in the mid 6th century, and the first calender done up by the Japanese in 604.

7) Shouldn't Kyugatsu really be Kugatsu?

8 ) So just what is the correct spelling of 'sexagenary'? The SA Wiki has it as 'sexEgenary'.

9) I thought 'Fuzuki' should be 'Fumizuki', but it appears both can be used.

10) Kind of hard to say without doing a lot of research I don't have time for, but it seems like the listing of calendars is spotty. Taienreki SB Taiintaiyoreki and some pre-Edo calenders weren't mentioned.

So what I'm curious about-what book is this from? This is one we can't blame on Turnbull.


Last edited by Tatsunoshi on Wed Mar 21, 2012 2:15 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 23, 2012 4:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
8 ) Spelling-- Webster's has the word sexagenarian, so the correct spelling is probably sexagenary. This means the wiki entry should be corrected, and many of my posts also have the misspelling. Embarassed

Yes--there is a lot wrong with the explanation. For parts, "garbled" would be the best description. It goes back to real information, but the information was misunderstood and mistranslated and misunderstood.


4) I don't think we can quibble too much about "adopted" or "first used." But he doesn't seem to realize that the use was stopped for a while. In his list of nengo he includes Tenji, etc.

5)Yes. He has kan = the five elements. I wonder if anyone can figure out his explanation of the cycle. Also "rat-wood-positive" is a strange word order. I really wonder if he has seen the kanji.


6) He is not talking about the calendar, which may have been formally introduced in 604, but naming by cyclic years. As was mentioned earlier, the cycle has been found on some 5th-century to early 6th century items, and anyway it would have come to Japan along with writing. 604 for the cycle is way too late.

10) The last paragraph, minus the last sentence, seems to have been copied from a good source. The list of calendars and dates is the standard one, so one cannot complain about the date of the Genka calendar, though modern scholars agree that the Genka calendar was actually in use earlier. Does "Taienreki SB Taiintaiyoreki " mean "should be"? But the Taien-reki (大衍暦) was an important Tang-period calendar. Taiin-taiyoureki 太陰太陽暦 means lunisolar calendar, and all the calendars listed were that.

Besides all the specific errors, I feel he just did not know what a "calendar" is. He uses "Gregorian calendar" "traditional calendar(nengo) [a definitely poor translation of nengo]," the seasonal (sekki) calendar, (in last paragraph) "calendar (reki)", and "Western calendar." If you pick any definition it is not consistent. He seems to think that a calendar was a way to specify year dates, and I don't think he even realized that the month/days were different before the Meiji calendar change. Try to make the last sentence precise.

I would love to be able to conclude this with the statement, "You can see that scholars do not understand the calendar. Therefore my class is very important." However, when I looked at other articles I discovered that the author doesn't really know much about a lot of topics, and has some real shockers. I plan to give some examples in the San no Maru soon.
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