Saying the Year in Japanese

The last time we talked about language in this blog, we covered how to say the day and date in Japanese. Conspicuously missing was how to state the year. In this short lesson, we’ll take a look at how to pronounce the year in Japanese, but first you’ll need to review the Numbers Lesson.

There are two ways to state the year in Japanese. The first is based on the international Gregorian calendar, in which this year is considered 2010. To state the year in Japanese according to the Gregorian calendar, simply state the number followed by one pronunciation for the word for “year,” which is “nen.” Just remember that 2010 is not “twenty ten,” but actually “two thousand and ten.” For example:

Year Japanese Pronunciation
1910 sen kyuu-haku juu-nen
1920 sen kyuu-haku ni-juu-nen
1930 sen kyuu-haku san-juu-nen
1940 sen kyuu-haku yon-juu-nen
1950 sen kyuu-haku go-juu-nen
1960 sen kyuu-haku roku-juu-nen
1970 sen kyuu-haku nana-juu-nen
1980 sen kyuu-haku hachi-juu-nen
1990 sen kyuu-haku kyuu-juu-nen
2000 ni-sen-nen
2010 ni-sen juu-nen

To get the years in between the decades, just count upwards. For example, 1976 is “sen kyuu-haku nana-juu roku-nen” and 2009 is “ni-sen kyuu-nen.”

There is another way to state the year in Japanese that is based on the Japanese imperial rule. According to this calendar, a year is referred to by the title for the emperor’s reign, the number of years for which he has been crowned emperor at that point, and the word for year, “nen.” (Note: The first year in the emperor’s reign is not referred to as “year 1” [“ichi-nen”], but is instead referred to as “gannen,” which means “original year.”)

Although this system wasn’t widely adopted until the Meiji Era (1868-1912), this system of dating stretches back thousands of years. However, we’ll just worry about the most recent imperial eras here.

Imperial Era Years Applicable
Meiji 1868-1911
Taisho 1912-1925
Showa 1926-1988
Heiwa 1989-present
Year (Gregorian Calendar) Year (Imperial Calendar) Japanese Pronunciation (Imperial Calendar)
1910 Meiji 43 Meiji yon-juu san-nen
1920 Taisho 9 Taisho kyuu-nen
1930 Showa 5 Showa go-nen
1940 Showa 15 Showa juu go-nen
1950 Showa 25 Showa ni-juu go-nen
1960 Showa 35 Showa san-juu go-nen
1970 Showa 45 Showa yon-juu go-nen
1980 Showa 55 Showa go-juu go-nen
1990 Heisei 2 Heisei ni-nen
2000 Heisei 12 Heisei juu ni-nen
2010 Heisei 22 Heisei ni-juu ni-nen

The most recent imperial years are sometimes abbreviated with the roman letters “S” for “Showa” and “H” for “Heisei” on official documents.

So how do we say today’s date? First, let’s use what we learned earlier this month to state, “Today is Tuesday, April 20th” in Japanese:

Kyou wa shigatsu hatsuka kayoubi desu.

Remember that the order is: month, day of the month, day of the week. To add the year to that sentence, you should state it in the following order: year, month, day of the month, day of the week. So “Today is Tuesday, April 20th, 2010 (Heisei 22)” is:

Kyou wa ni-sen juu-nen shigatsu hatsuka kayoubi desu.


Kyou wa Heisei ni-juu ni-nen shigatsu hatsuka kayoubi desu.

How about stating when you were born? State the date, year first, and finish the sentence with “ni umareta (casual)” or “ni umaremashita (polite)” (“[I] was born.”) So “I was born on October 15th, 1983 (Showa 58)” is:

Watashi wa sen kyuu-haku hachi-juu san-nen juugatsu juugo-nichi ni umareta.


Watashi wa sen kyuu-haku hachi-juu san-nen juugatsu juugo-nichi ni umaremashita.


Watashi wa Showa go-juu hachi-nen juugatsu juugo-nichi ni umareta.


Watashi wa Showa go-juu hachi-nen juugatsu juugo-nichi ni umaremashita.

What year were you born? Practice converting it into the imperial equivalent. State your full birthday in Japanese. Continue practicing by stating the full birthdays of all of your friends and family members.

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Tags: birthday, date, imperial year, japan, japanese, japanese calendar, japanese language, year