Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Being American, I've never had a king, to say nothing of an emperor. Thus the wonderful absence that lies at the heart of my difficulty in keeping track of Japan's imperial year system, which for me began when I arrived here in Showa 47, according to quick calculations on a sushi napkin. 
To further simplify things with a brief labyrinth of clarification, the Showa era began in the final year of the Taisho era (Taisho 12, I believe - I should check Wikipedia), which itself had begun at the end of the Meiji era (which had begun on some date/month in 1868 and lasted 44 years) and lasted until the first year of Showa, which in turn ended in Showa 58 with the naturally timed death of Hirohito (who has a different posthumous name, which used to be stored in one of my Showa brain cells). And just as Taisho 12 was also Showa 1, Showa 58 was as well the first year of Heisei, the new and current imperial era that has screwed up my drivers license renewal.

This multiplicity of dating gets confusing if as an American (other nationalities can speak for themselves) you go mentally non-imperial for any extended duration while living here, because every now and then in dealing with the J-world you suddenly have to convert between calendric systems, which was easier during Showa, because all you had to do back in those heady days was add or subtract 25 years to or from either calendar, respectively, piece a cake. I forget what you do now, something like you do (I don't) between Centigrade and Farehnheit, I think there are retrograde fractions in there. Then January 1 and the emperors' naturally arbitrary birthdays and deathdays confuse things. When I was about to renew my license I thought this year was Heisei 18, which turned out to be off by about 4 years when I finally asked my wife what year it actually was. For the information of those abroad who might be coming to Japan to renew their licenses or something, it's Heisei 22.
Many government agencies here use the imperial year on driver's licenses and other bureaucratic forms, to keep everybody in that old imperial frame of mind, so being ignoble I get it wrong and am late a lot. Also when I fill out those forms I always put down the easy-to-remember estimated number of years since the virgin birth of the savior of humankind, also called a lord to satisfy those old royalty cravings, though I try to remain my own noble, to the extent possible. I was stubborn as a kid, too; I've had my own system of time since grade school, if not earlier. I don't wear a watch either.

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