Japan currently uses two types of calendar system denoting years:
1) The Japanese Era system ( 年号 nengō), which is based on the reign of the emperor. For example, this is 2012AD, but in Japan, it is also known as Heisei 24 implying it is the 24th reign of the current Heisei emperor.
For your edification, here's a link to a site that has the proper nengō dates. It's good, making sense of a confusing piece of history for me: HERE.(also, see photo above).
2) The European Common Era system (Anno Domini - AD, which is know as 西暦 seireki in Japan... 2012 AD).
There are actually two other calendar systems that are still used in Japan... but are not used in everyday situations.
3) The Jikki-Junishi calendar is a bit more complex, and actually involves two sets of ideas... namely the 10 elements and the 12 zodiac signs.
In this calendar, the 10 elements are actually five elements, but each element has a 'younger' and 'elder' aspect. The five elements are: Wood, Fire, Metal, Water and Earth. As such, there is a Young Wood and Elder Wood elements, and each possess different characteristics.
The 12 signs of the Zodiac should be familiar... they are the Chinese signs of the Zodiac (not the Scorpio or Leo-thing) consisting of: Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Rat, Ox, Tiger and Hare.
So... in the Jikki-Junishi calendar, it is a combination of the first-element and the first Zodiac sign, followed by the second element and the second Zodiac sign, et cetra.
This calendar is used to determine one's horoscope and future
There is also a true fourth calendar that was kept around after January 1, 1873 (which, if you are keeping track is: 1873 AD or 6 Meiji-jidai (6th year of the Meiji Era... 'jidai' meaning 'era'), which is known as:
4) The Imperial Year system (皇紀 kōki), which is based on Japan's founding (mythical or otherwise) by it's first Emperor Jimmu back in 660 BC.
Some background on Jimmu: legend has it that Jimmu was born on February 13, 711 BC, which is the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar - and died on March 11 585 BC.
Hmm... that's 126 years old.
Anyhow... those dates are based on something called the lunisolar calendar system - which I discussed in a previous blog: HERE.
Long story short on Jimmu (I read a book on him once), according to Shinto religious beliefs, Jimmu is a direct descendent of Amaterasu, the sun goddess... which is where we get that whole Land of the Rising Sun thing... which is why my first ever Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife blog was entitled House of the Rising Son - about me going to Japan.
So... if we follow the Imperial Year system... it should be 2012 + 660 = the year 2672.
Now... as mentioned, there was something called a lunisolar calendar system... but in January of 1873 it was replaced by the Gregorian calendar system... which the rest of the non-Asian cultures had been using for a couple of centuries earlier.
Anyhow... despite Japan following the standard Gregorian calendar, it still refused to give in to gaijin (foreigner) completely and rather than utilize such terms as January, February, March (and whatever your language translates it to), Japan decided to use the numbered month system it had used before with the lunisolar calendar.
This means that Japan's months don't have special names or honorific names (August was created in honor of Caesar Augustus), and instead are simply known as:
January = １月 (first month and pronounced ichigatsu); February = 2月, (second month and pronounced nigatsu); March = 3月(third month = sangatsu); April = 4月(fourth month = shigatsu); May = 5月(fifth month = gogatsu) June = 6月(sixth month = rokugatsu); July = 7月 (seventh month = shichigatsu); August = 8月 (eighth month = hachigastu); September = 9月 (ninth month = kugatsu); October = 10月 (tenth month = jugatsu); November = 11月 (eleventh month = juichigatsu); December = 12月 (twelfth month = junigatsu).
It's actually pretty easy to learn once you learn how to count to 10 in Japanese and then add the word 'gatsu'.
So... this is October 2012... well in Japan it's the 10th month of 2012 OR it's Jugatsu Heisei 24.
Whatever it is... it's confusing.... Thanks Japan... can't make anything easy, can you?
Next up... time for Japanese clocks. It's just not that simple.