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Q. Can you tell me the old names of the months?

A. In Japanese the months are simply numbered from one to twelve. For example, January is the first month of the year, therefore it is called "ichi-gatsu." Click here to hear the pronunciation of the months. 

There are also old names of each month. These names date back to the Heian period (794-1185) and are based on the lunar calendar. Today they are not normally used when saying the date. They are written in a Japanese calendar sometimes along with modern names. They are also used in poems or novels. Of the twelve months, yayoi (March), satsuki (May) and shiwasu (December) are still referred to quite often. A fine day in May is called "satsuki-bare." Yayoi and satsuki can be used as female names. 

  Modern Name Old Name
January ichi-gatsu mutsuki
February ni-gatsu kisaragi
March san-gatsu yayoi
April shi-gatsu uzuki
May go-gatsu satsuki
June roku-gatsu minazuki
July shichi-gatsu fumizuki
August hachi-gatsu hazuki
September ku-gatsu nagatsuki
October juu-gatsu kannazuki
November juuichi-gatsu shimotsuki
December juuni-gatsu shiwasu

Here are the kanji characters for the names of both old and modern months. 

Each old name has the meaning. 

mutsuki
睦月
Month of harmony
kisaragi
如月
Month of wearing extra layers of clothes
yayoi
弥生
Month of growth
uzuki
卯月
Month of Deutzia (unohana)
satsuki
早月
Month of planting rice sprouts
minazuki
水無月
Month of no water
fumizuki
文月
Month of literary
hazuki
葉月
Month of leaves
nagatsuki
長月
Autumn long month
kannazuki
神無月
Month of no Gods
shimotsuki
霜月
Month of frost
shiwasu
師走
Month of running priests

If you know about the Japanese climate, you might wonder why minazuki (June) is the month of no water. June is rainy season (tsuyu) in Japan. However, the old Japanese calendar was about a month behind the European calendar. It means minazuki was from July 7th to August 7th in the past.

It is believed that all the Gods from throughout the country gathered at Izumo Taisha (Izumo Shrine) in kannazuki (October), therefore there were no gods for other prefectures.

December is the busy month. Everyone, even the most respected priests run around  for preparation of the New Year. 

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