Thursday, March 25, 2010

How Old Is My Book/Postcard?

The other day, for $5, I picked up online a neat kimono style book from over 50 years ago: 1953, to be exact. I love old clothing catalogues from all over the world: here, it's interesting seeing not only the kimono styles but the layout and photos in the book (the "color" ones are black and white photos that have been painted over later). I'll do a few scans later on to share with y'all. :)

The book spine didn't say 1953, though: it used the traditional Japanese calendar, which (in modern-ish times) uses the reigns of emperors. When an emperor takes the throne, that year becomes Year 1 of his rule and goes on until the next emperor. The name will be the name he is known by after death.

This is also handy to know because a few times in Japan I was asked to enter my birth year in the Japanese style, rather than Western years.

If you have an old Japanese book, postcard, or other bit of printed material, take a look and see if you can find the year it was published, usually on the spine, inside cover, or back cover. You're looking for a string of characters that begin with one of these four pairs (assuming it's not extremely old):

明治 (Meiji - 1868-1912)
大正 (Taisho - 1912-1926)
昭和 (Shouwa - 1926-1989)
平成 (Heisei - 1989-present)

After the pair identifying the reign, you'll see number kanji. 二 by itself is 2. If 10 (十) is after it, then it becomes 20 (2 10s). So 二十一 would be 21. From one to 10:

1 一 2 二 3 三 4 四 5 五 6 六 7 七 8 八 9 九 10十

So 昭和四十五 would be Showa 45, and 平成十三 would be Heisei 13.

Once you find the Japanese calendar year, you can crosscheck it with the Western calendar. My kimono book says Showa 28 on it, which ends up being 1953.

Some books will have the exact month and day they were published. If you're really curious, 年 is year, 月 is month and 日 is day, each appearing at the end of the numbers they're attached to. My book reads 昭和二十八年十二月一日, which is...

Showa 28 (1953), December, 1st.

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