Japanese Lesson – Years

Hello everyone!

In this lesson we will learn how to indicate years.


What year is it?

To ask about the current year you will say:

ことし今年[kotoshi]/ this year /
[wa]/ {topic} /
[,]/ , /
なん[nan]/ what /
ねん[nen]/ year /
ですです[desu]/ to be /
[ka]/ {question} /
[.]/ . /

/This year, what year is it?/

Kanji time!

The Kanji for year, or for counting years, is 年. As you may have spotted in the question above, this kanji has two readings: the on-yomi ネン [NEN] and the kun-yomi とし [toshi].

We are in 2017

To indicate the year it is really simple: you just have to tell the year followed by 年 (ねん) [nen]. And now comes the time to practice your Japanese numbers; if we are in 2017 what will you answer…

ことし今年[kotoshi]/ this year /
[wa]/ {topic} /
[,]/ , /
にせん じゅう なな二○一七[ni-s'en ju~ nana]/ two thousand seventeen /
ねん[nen]/ year /
ですです[desu]/ to be /
[.]/ . /

/This year is 2017./

Or more simply since there is no ambiguity on the context:

にせん じゅう なな二○一七[ni-s'en ju~ nana]/ two thousand seventeen /
ねん[nen]/ year /
ですです[desu]/ to be /
[.]/ . /

/It is 2017./

You must have spotted that the way the year 2017 is written: 二○一七, is different from what we have seen before as you may have expected it to be written 二千十七. This is a specificity for the writing of dates where Japanese language has copied the model of our Gregorian way of writing years. In this system 1987 is written 一九八七 and 2000 is written 二○○○.

Easy isn’t it!?…

Here comes the wareki!

… well, not entirely. As you may already have seen in manga, anime, drama or history books, Japan has its own calendar named 和暦 (われき) [wareki]. It differs from the 西暦 (せいれき) [se~reki], the Gregorian calendar which reference is 0 A.D., in that the reference of the 和暦 calendar is the date of intronisation of the latest Emperor of Japan. The given name of the era, the 年号 (ねんご) [nengo], is determined by the Emperor and indicates the spirit the Emperor wants to give to his reign and the name the Emperor will be given after his death.

2017 for instance is 平成29年 (へいせい に じゅう きゅう ねん) [he~se~ ni ju~ kyu~ nen], /year 29 of the Heisei era/. The name 平成, given by Emperor Akihito, brings the idea of “achieving peace”.

You can have a look at the following table if you want to see the list of the different eras: seireki.

During a year of transition, the dates before the intronisation of the new Emperor are named using the name of its predecessor, and the ones starting from his intronisation will have is name. Note that for the first year you should not use ◯◯一年 (◯◯ いち ねん) [… ichi nen] but ◯◯元年 (◯◯ がん ねん ) [… gan nen]. For instance, until the January the 7th, 1989, we were in 昭和64年 (しょうわ ろく じゅう よん ねん), the 64th year of the Shouwa period (Emperor Hirohito/Shôwa), and on the 8th of January 1989 following the intronisation of Emperor Akihito we entered 平成元年 (へいせい がん ねん) [he~se~ gan nen], first year of the Heisei period.

The 和暦 (われき) [wareki] is still widely used in Japan, be it in newspapers, books, TV, official documents… therefore being aware of its existence is important.



今年 ことし [kotoshi] this year
来年 らいねん [rainen] next year
去年 きょねん [kyonen] last year
生年 せいねん [se~nen] year of birth


Translate and answer the following questions

ことし は、なん ねん です か。
kotoshi wa, nan nen desu ka.
ことし は、に せん じゅう なな ねん です。
kotoshi wa, ni sen ju~ nana nen desu.




きょねん は、なん ねん でした か。
kyonen wa, nan nen deshita ka.
きょねん は、に せん じゅう ろく ねん でした。
kyonen wa, ni sen ju~ roku nen deshita.




らいねん は、なん ねん です か。
rainen wa, nan nen desu ka.
らいねん は、に せん じゅう はち ねん です。
rainen wa, ni sen ju~ hachi nen desu.




せいねん は、なん ねん です か。
se~nen wa, nan nen desu ka.



Here it is for this lesson do not hesitate to post your questions or comments. And share if you liked it!


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