Vocab meanings for months of the year

Rather than January, February etc. I feel I should be reading the months rather as first month, second month and so on, unless of course Japanese has specific terms for those time periods.
So would that be a more appropriate way of reading or thinking in Japanese?


Do you mean the meanings? The readings are the hiragana / pronunciations.

一月 (いちがつ) doesn’t mean “first month.” It means January. It’s a proper noun for the first month of the calendar year, which we call January in English.

If someone wanted to say “first month” as in, “this is the first month of school,” they would say 一ヶ月目 (いっかげつめ) or 一番目の月 (いちばんめのつき)

The word 一月 (ひとつき) is different, and means “one month,” as in the length of time, regardless of where it fits on a calendar, but 一ヶ月 is a more common / casual way to express that idea.

Even in English we have the equivalent for September-December except that the Caesars added months.

Sept means seven
Oct- eight
Nov- nine
Dec - ten

If July (named for Julius) and August (for Augustus) hadn’t been added these would be like the Japanese versions and we don’t call them 7th month, etc,

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Yes, I meant meanings.

What I am trying to impart here is that while I do know Japan has adopted the Gregorian calendar I do not know if Japan has adopted the concept of months. Latin months. Because January comes from Latin.

So when I come across the meaning of 一月 as January, conceptually that says to me first month, first moon, one moon, month one etc…

I guess my logic has always been that languages that derive from Latin have twelve months and languages that don’t derive from Latin just have like, a year and seasons?

Technically 一月 (いちがつ) can be used for other calendars than the Gregorian calendar, and when it is used that way, it wouldn’t mean January.

But the odds that you will see that outside of the context of a quiz show or something is exceedingly low.

There are older names for the months, but keep in mind these are older names, so you’re only gonna see them in period piece dramas, and occasionally as girls’ names. Also, these are based on the lunar calendar, so they don’t correlate directly to the current months, but here they are:

  1. 睦月(むつき)
  2. 如月(きさらぎ) or 衣更着(きぬさらぎ)
  3. 弥生(やよい)
  4. 卯月(うづき)
  5. 皐月(さつき) or 早苗月(さなえつき)
  6. 水無月(みなづき)
  7. 文月(ふみづき)
  8. 葉月(はづき)
  9. 長月(ながつき)
  10. 神無月(かんなづき or かみなづき)
  11. 霜月(しもづき)
  12. 師走(しわす)

Fun side note: the eldest girl’s name in My Neighbour Totoro is Satsuki, while the youngest girl is Mei. It’s a pun (Satsuki = the fifth month, Mei = the English month May = also the fifth month).


And one of the definitions of いちがつ is むつき. But again, I have never heard people talk about the lunar months except as trivia.


Presumably if you got into Japanese history you’d encounter it more.

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Just noticed one thing that’s not entirely clear here: you do realise that “the concept of months” is not an arbitrary invention of the Gregorian or even the Julian calendar, right? One month = one trip through the moon’s phases. (Well, ish. In actual fact, the moon does a full orbit thirteen times a year, but there you go.)

The system is based on the Chinese calendar, which uses both the sun and the moon. The numbering is based on 12 zodiacs, so the numbering is the same. The moon months are too short, so they added some leap periods from time to time. That year starts on the Chinese New Year obviously, it was just relabeled to fit the Gregorian calendar.

[Months are based on astronomic events, why shouldn’t they have months?]

I watched My Neighbor Totoro (in English) before learning Japanese, and I learned this trivia at that time. So when I started learning Japanese I was really confused as to why I was learning ごがつ instead of さつき for May. :laughing:


Yeah, I’m overthinking it. I think.

I guess to an English dominant brain we don’t really need to break down a word like January into something like ‘first month of the year’ in order to understand it’s meaning. The meaning just comes naturally.
一月 is literally made up of one, moon though
So a Japanese dominant mind might completely skip the literal composition of the vocab and see it as… January?

It’s more that our English minds see “January” and immediately go “Oh, that’s the first month of the year”. In Japanese it’s just “first month” is explicitly the month’s name.

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Yep has turned into more of a history lesson :slight_smile:

“Moon” and “month” spring from the same origin, incidentally. As does “Monday”.

The important thing to remember is that words have meanings; they aren’t just the kanji they are made from. If you look in a monolingual dictionary, one of the definitions for 一月 is 1年の最初の月: literally, “the first month of the year”.

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Thanks Belthazar

Sometimes I need help with the simple stuff

It’s more like if January was called Firsmon or something. Where the etymology is clear from the contents, but you couldn’t use it to mean “first month.”

A Japanese person does not hear いちがつ and think that it means what we would translate as “first month.”

Why thank you for the personal response Mr. Craburn.

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