Going according to the old calendar based on inreki (陰暦), the following is just an example of the unique interpretations of the seasons & months as viewed by an older society of Japan. Many influences behind the names are from how society operated. This includes the behavior of nature, farming procedures, holidays & festivals, seasonal plants & flowers, and so on. Many names are presented, which includes officially chosen titles, nicknames and variants, special occasion-related, as well as other obscure ones possible related to region, social groups, and so on. Keep in mind that this page will not feature all of them; from my own research, there are much more naming conventions (possibly hundreds) discovered from Japanese texts.
Take note that inreki is but one of the few types of calendars used during Japan’s history. It is not the same as another old calendar that uses yōreki (陽暦) as a basis. Also, there are slight changes made in order to incorporate the modern shingetsu (新暦) that is used today, so comparing this to inreki will show numerous discrepancies.
SPRING / 春
|和風月名||一月 ＝ 睦月||ニ月 ＝ 如月||三月 ＝ 弥生|
|別名||猛春、 正月、 元月、 初春月||仲春、仲陽、令月、初花月、啓蟄、春分||季春、桜月、晩春、花見月、 清明、穀雨|
1st MONTH: Mutsuki / 睦月 （Present-Day February）
MEANING: Harmonious Moon
PERIOD OF DURATION: 2/4 〜 2/18
Common theory behind the naming convention of Mutsuki is believed to come from the phrase “mu(t)subi tsuki”, meaning “month of establishing good relations”. This is tied with O-Shōgatsu (お正月), which is a week-long new years celebration that takes place the 1st week of January. During this time, family members gather together to strengthen their bond together.
There are other theories, such as the name originating from the phrase “moto ni naru tsuki” (元になる月), meaning “starting month of the year”. Shorthand version would be “mototsuki” (元月). In general, these theories share the same idea as this being the 1st month of the year.
- Mōshun (猛春) = Vibrant Spring
- Shōgatsu (正月) = 1st month of the new year
- Gangetsu (元月) = 1st month of the new year
- Hatsuharuzuki (初春月) = 1st month of Spring of the new year
2nd MONTH: Kisaragi (15th day of Present-Day March)
PERIOD OF DURATION: 3/6〜3/21
In general, Kisaragi represents the 2nd month of the year, as the 2nd month of Spring. From this month, there is more of evidence of Spring due to the changes in Nature. Follows the same kanji use as in China, but not the same lingual, which should be “nyogetsu”. Since “kisaragi” is used instead, the meaning is different.
The naming convention is believed to have come from the words 衣更着, 気更来, and 生更木, which each have the same pronunciation. While it normally indicates the 2nd month according to the old calendar, its “meaning” is deep in imagery according to the seasonal changes. We can get a sense of this by looking at the other versions of the word “kisaragi”:
衣更着 = Preparing layers of clothing to be worn during the harsh cold of lingering winter
気更来 = Month when the sun will shine its warm rays of light
生更木 = As Spring arrives, plants & trees will begin to grow
来更来 = Can really get a sense of the new Spring season brought by the new year
気更来 = Warmer days to come as the temperature is rising
- Chūshun (仲春) = 2nd (middle) month of the 3-month period of Spring
- Chūyō (仲陽) = Warmth of the 2nd month of Spring
- Reigetsu (令月) = Month of good fortunes
- Hatsuhana Zuki (初花月) = Month when the flowers begin to grow
- Keichitsu (啓蟄) = Becomes warm as daybreak arrives and insects hide in the earth
- Shunbun (春分) = Winter subsides and Spring arises as nature begins to flourish
3rd MONTH: Yayoi (3rd month of Spring)
PERIOD OF DURATION: 4/5〜4/21
Yayoi represents the 3rd month of the Spring season. The meaning behind the name is pretty deep, and is something that is not translated directly.
ya/弥 = finally, or increasingly
yoi/生 = plants are growing in abundance
Together, the name Yayoi implies “month where the plants flourish in growth at an increasing rate”. This shows how people viewed the 3rd month to be nature-centric. The same can be said for the other names for this month.
- Kishun (季春) = Can mean “final stage of Spring”. In some instances, it also represents the 3rd month of Spring.
- Sakurazuki (桜月) = The season where the cherry blossoms bloom
- Banshun/Kure no Haru (晩春) = Last month of Spring
- Hanami Zuki (花見月) = Season to go view the flowers (i.e. cherry blossoms)
- Seimei (清明) = Around 15th days after Shunbun, means “purify & clean”
- Koku-u (穀雨) = Around 15th days after Seimei, means the period where farmers can plant their seeds in the fields as normal. In other words, this period begins after a particular hot period has past, and lasts long enough before the nights of frost become prevalent.
SUMMER / 夏
|和風月名||四月 ＝ 卯月||五月 ＝ 皐月||六月 ＝ 水無月|
|別名||孟夏、首夏、麦秋、卯花月、 立夏、小満||仲夏、仲署、雨月、早苗月、 芒種、夏至||季夏、葵月、水月、常夏月、 小暑、大暑|
4th MONTH: Uzuki / 卯月 (Sometime present-day May)
MEANING: 4th month of the year
PERIOD OF DURATION: 5/6〜5/21
Uzuki is a said to be a shorthand for “卯の花の咲く月” (u-no-hana no saku tsuki)”, which means “the month when utsugi flowers bloom”. U-no-hana is another way of saying utsugi. Utsugi is a type of flowering shrub from the hydrangea family that usually blooms around this time.
Another theory behind the name is related to farming. Written as a variant of “植月” with the same pronunciation of “Uzuki”, this means “the month where rice seeds are planted in preparation for the year’s harvest”.
- Mōka (孟夏) = Beginning of Summer
- Shuka (首夏) = Beginning of Summer
- Bakushū (麦秋) = Period where wheat is a ripe golden color, indicating it’s ready for harvest
- U-no-hana Tsuki (卯花月) = Month when the utsugi flower (deutzia crenata, a flowering shrub from the hydrangea family) blooms
- Rikkan (立夏) = Arrival of Summer
- Shōman (小満) = Period when the sun warms the air, nature rejuvenates, and all plants and living creatures show signs of life
5th MONTH = Satsuki / 皐月 (Sometime present-day June)
MEANING: Harvesting month
PERIOD OF DURATION: 6/5〜6/21
Satsuki represents the 5th month of the old calendar, Coincidentally, this is also a busy time where many have to take advantage of the favorable weather to begin planting seeds on their farm. The word satsuki is said to be a shorthand of sorts that indicate this. One example is “早苗を植える月” (sanae wo ueru tsuki), which refers planting rice seeds in this month so that they can quickly grow for harvesting. Normally this should be written as “早苗月” (sanaezuki), but is believed to have been shortened to “satsuki”, even though this doesn’t use the same kanji (Chinese written character).
So why is “皐” (Sa) of Satsuki used? Possibly it bears the same meaning as “sanae” (早苗) based on context. In actuality, the character “皐” has the meaning of “rice offered to the gods” (神に挙げる稲, kami ni ageru ine). The use of this could be superstitious, as form of good luck to having a successful 1st harvest.
- Chūka (仲夏) = Period when the Summer season is hot (midpoint)
- Chūsho (仲署) = Hot period during mid-Summer
- Uzuki (雨月) = Month where it rains a good amount
- Sanaezuki (早苗月) = Month where rice seedlings planted so they can sprout early/on time
- Bōshu (芒種) = The tips of stalks of grain, such as rice or wheat, indicate when harvest is ready
- Geshi (夏至) = Summer Solstice
6th MONTH = Minazuki / 水無月 (Sometime present-day July)
MEANING: End of the rainy season
PERIOD OF DURATION: 7/7〜7/24
There are several nuances to the meaning, with all primarily related to farmlands.
1) On one hand, if we read only the kanji in the name Minazuki, it would be something like “water (水) not present (無) in this month (月). According to some older records, the “na” (無, which is pronounced “nai” regularly) is actually supposed to be read as the Japanese “no” (の), which is a … showing possession. Thus, the name means “the month of water”. Although it begins after the rainy season, Minazuki refers to there being water for the plants and harvests to grow.
2) On the other hand, if we stick with the name as it is written in kanji, it is more of a nod towards the fact that rainfall has ended. The reason being is that during the rainfall all water was reserved only for harvest, such as the ricefields. Due to this, there will be no more water as the rainy month has pass and will be followed by more hot days.
3) In a slightly different direction, this month can also refer to how busy farmers will be with producing their harvest. They will have to work a great deal after the rainfall has ended, and will have to do so under the intense sun. If we look at if from this point of view, then Minazuki will instead be written with the kanji “皆尽月” while possessing the same phonetics, bearing the meaning “all the farmers (皆) will work exhaustively (尽) during this month (月).
While these explanations do give a slight difference in how to view this, in the long run they do reference the time around the end of the rainy season.
- Kika (季夏) = Ending of the (summer) season
- Aoizuki (葵月) = Month when the hollyhocks grow
- Minazuki (水月) = Alternative writing of “水無月”
- Tononatsu Zuki (常夏月) = Month of normal summer temperature
- Shōsho (小暑) = It will get scorching hot soon
- Taisho (大暑) = It is now scorching hot
FALL / 春
WINTER / 冬