和風月名: Alternate names for the months of the year in Japanese: (睦月, 如月, 彌生, 卯月, 皋月, 水無月, 文月, 葉月, 長月, 神無月, 霜月, 師走)

By | February 19, 2018

With a country like Japan that has tens of thousands of years of history, I guess it’s not much of a surprise that there is always more to learn. This includes cultural stuff, but also words and expressions that you may not have had exposure to on a daily basis (especially if are studying Japanese without actually living in Japan).

Learning how to count in Japanese can be tricky, but fortunately the words for months in Japanese are pretty straightforward (actually it is much easier than learning months in English). Here they are in case you haven’t learned them yet. (Note: the ones in bold are a little tricky since there are two ways to say the number 4, 7, and 9).

  • January:1月 (ichigatsu)
  • February: 2月 (nigatsu)
  • March: 3月 (sangatsu)
  • April:4月 (shigatsu)
  • May: 5月 (gogatsu)
  • June: 6月 (rokugatsu)
  • July:7月 (shichigatsu)
  • August:8月 (hachigatsu)
  • September:9月 (kugatsu)
  • October:10月 (juugatsu)
  • November:11月 (juuichigatsu)
  • December:12月 (juunigatsu)

These can also be written in Kanji (一月、二月、三月, etc.)

However, some of you may not know there is a second way to express months in Japanese. These are called 和風月名 (wafuu getsumei):

  • January: 睦月 (mutsuki)
  • February:如月 (kisaragi)
  • March: 彌生 (yayoi)
  • April: 卯月(uzuki)
  • May: 皋月 (satsuki)
  • June: 水無月 (minazuki)
  • July: 文月 (fumizuki, fuzuki)
  • August:葉月 (hazuki)
  • September: 長月 (nagatsuki)
  • October: 神無月(kan’nazuki)
  • November: 霜月 (shimotsuki)
  • December: 師走 (shiwasu)

While most of them at least have the character for month (月), the words for March and December don’t (彌生、師走). There are some uncommon Kanji characters like (彌), and some irregular readings like  如月(kisaragi). There are actually even more variations I have not listed above (like 極月 for December) but the ones above are the most common from what I understand.

I had studied Japanese for quite awhile before coming into contact with these, but I get the feeling if you lived in Japan you would see these once in a while. I have seen 師走 (december) used in a formal email, and the calendar I got from Uwajimaya (in Beaverton, Oregon) uses all of them along with regular numbers (1,2,3,…) above the names of the months.

Here is a good article (in Japanese) if you want to learn more about the origins behind these words, and another. One of the interesting word origins is for 師走 (December), which apparently comes from the idea of Buddhist Priests running busily around in the month of December in order to help with certain Buddhist services.

I don’t think you’ll likely need these words for any Japanese test, but those who memorize them will have bragging rights as card-carrying month-name otakus.

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2 thoughts on “和風月名: Alternate names for the months of the year in Japanese: (睦月, 如月, 彌生, 卯月, 皋月, 水無月, 文月, 葉月, 長月, 神無月, 霜月, 師走)

  1. Kurt

    Wow, what timing. I just came across yesterday 師走 used by one of the cast members in the original Terrace House from 2012 which I’ve been watching. I use the Japanese close-captioning and screenshot any words I don’t know, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why a person was saying a word I 適当に translated as “teacher-run”. (In retrospect it was in the context of saying something like “it’s a cold December morning”.) I feel a bit embarrassed to say that I’ve lived in Japan for quite a while now and never had any idea there were these alternative month names.

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for that interesting story. Glad you got something out of this post (:

      I guess maybe these terms aren’t used that commonly, even in Japan…

      Reply

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