Calendar Conundrums

First, I would like to wish everyone a very happy New Year. I hope 2009 will bring a lot of good into the world. I realise I am a little late with my wishes, the reason being that from Christmas day 2008 right through to about January 4th or 5th 2009, I was sick with what I believe to have been the norovirus. Well, whatever it was, it put everything on hold, I was quite incapacitated for some time, and my research was put on the back burner for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t fun. So my Christmas and New Year were pretty much ruined. On January 11th however, I made up for all the missed celebrations of Christmas and New Year by partying BIG TIME as it was my birthday! 😉

I had started writing this  entry on Christmas Eve, I think it was, and then became sick, so this is now a little less timely, but I started it and being the stubborn Capricorn that I am therefore must complete it.

Christmas in Japan is quite different to what I had grown up with in Britain. Being in such a different world as Japan is to the one I grew up in sometimes makes me wonder about my concepts of time and space. Studying the history of Japan makes me wonder about such ideas even more. The calendar is an excellent example of what I mean. Christmas Day is a national holiday in the UK. In Japan, December 23rd is a national holiday as it is the Emperor’s birthday, but Christmas Day is a regular working day. Where I come from Christmas is a family affair, but here in Japan, New Year is a time for family gathering. Experiencing life in Japan therefore, really challenges my perceptions of the meaning of these yearly events.

In 2008, December 26th was the 29th day of the eleventh month in the Lunar calendar. Nakai Hiromu was apparently born on  this day in 1838, which according to calculation was January 14th 1839 in the Gregorian calendar. That would make him a Capricorn, like yours truly. Sakamoto Ryoma was born on the 15th day of the eleventh month 1835 of the lunar calendar, which was January 3rd 1836 of the Gregorian calendar; also making Ryoma a Capricorn!

In Ryoma’s case, he died before the Meiji government changed the calendar over to the western one and figuring out the dates is perhaps not so awkward. However, the calendar was changed over from the old Japanese lunar calendar to the western Gregorian calendar in 1873, therefore, dates for Hiromu sometimes become a little more awkward because it can be difficult to know which calendar is being used, particularly in the case of private diaries and journals. It gets me into a real tizz sometimes!

Now that I am fully recovered from my sickness of course, I have been working hard to catch up with my research. I am STILL trying to perfect the translation of Hiromu’s Kokai Shinsetsu travel journal. It is no easy endeavour. During his sea journey to Britain in 1866, he tells us briefly about what he sees when in the western calendar the date changes from 1866 to 1867. He experiences New Year celebrations with the British passengers on board ship and he describes the people dressing up in “strange hats” and “clapping hands and banging on tables”. Some of the sailors play flutes and drums etc and go running wildly around the ship! The passengers, “even the ladies” he tells us, are drinking alcohol until late at night. Hiromu does not give much away about his feelings on the experience. He tells us only that it is all a little bit strange for him, and surely it must have been.

Having grown up with a certain tradition all one’s life, like the New Year celebrations, and then experiencing another that is quite different, it can feel a little bit strange. I can testify to that myself! I think it is important though to have such experiences in order to be more open and accepting of the world around us. I for one am glad of my experiences in Japan; I think they have helped me to be a little less stubborn and dogmatic… only a little mind! 🙂


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