Unriddling the Daisho-reki Calendar

Popularity of Daisho-reki Calendars

Shimazoroi onna Benkei

Title Creator Physical data
Shimazoroi onna Benkei Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi (Utagawa Kuniyoshi) 1 v.
Date Publisher Place
- - -
Note Subject(NDC) Call No.
A set of 10 color woodblock prints (Library lacks 2prints) 721.8 寄別2-3-1-5

From the set of 10 Ukiyo-e by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861). The Ise-calendar consulted by the woman is a calendar of the 15th year of Tenpo (1844).

According to the lunisolar calendar, there were long months with 30 days and short ones with 29 and their arrangement changed year by year. So knowing the arrangement of long and short months, with the inclusion of an intercalary month from time to time, was very important for the people who lived in those times. Merchants, who made it a rule to effect payments or collections at the end of each month, would make signs to show a long or short month and erect them up in their shops according to the month in order to avoid mistakes.

While the calendar spread, the Daisho-reki calendar, which showed only the order of the long and short months, appeared during the Edo period (1603-1867). In those days it was called simply "Daisho". But instead of merely showing the length of month, it incorporated such devices as indicating long and short months with the use of pictures and sentences.

Various kinds of Daisho, including those using auspicious illustrations like the animal of the year and scenes from popular Kabuki plays, were produced and many were traded at "Daisho" New Year gatherings, while others were used for gifts. This custom began at the end of 17th century and was most popular in the latter half of the 18th century, in the Edo period. Many noted artists produced Daisho illustrations. Later, in the Meiji era, when the solar calendar was officially adopted, Daisho calendars fell into disuse and were no longer produced. However, the puzzles they included continue to excite interest even today. From generations people have collected Daisho calendars and many of them are kept in the National Diet Library. So let us try to solve a few of their puzzles.

When testing one's skill with a puzzle, care should be taken with the following:

  • What is the subject of a picture or sentence?
    The kind of animal may help find the year for which the calendar was.
  • Is the name of the month hidden anywhere?
    Chinese ideograms may be inserted in the face of a person or his/her kimono.
  • Dai or Sho written in Chinese are hidden.
    Some may be symbolized.
  • Are there any articles presenting a clear contrast?
    For example a man and woman, white and black...

Click below to start solving the puzzle. But first, see "Basic knowledge needed to understand a Daisho".

Also, there are many other Daisho calendars in the "NDL Digital Collections" (in Japanese only) in this website. Why not try to solve them?

List of CalendarsStart

Basic knowledge needed to understand a Daisho

(1) Name of month

In former times, various names were used for months in Japan, but normally numbers were used, from one to twelve. Prior to the introduction of Arabic numerals into Japan during the Meiji era, all numbers were written in Chinese characters.

Table of contrast between English, Japanese and Chinese numerals
Chinese Japanese English
一月(正月) Ichigatsu(Shogatsu) January
二月 Nigatsu February
三月 Sangatsu March
四月 Shigatsu April
五月 Gogatsu May
六月 Rokugatsu June
七月 Shichigatsu July
八月 Hachigatsu August
九月 Kugatsu September
十月 Jugatsu October
十一月 Juichigatsu November
十二月(極月) Junigatsu(Gokugetsu) December

The following are also required in order to understand the Daisho:

Intercarlary months
Chinese Japanese English
Uruu Intercarlary
Zuki Month
Long months. Short months
Chinese Japanese English
Dai Big(Long)
Sho Small(Short)

(2) E-to (sexagenary cycle based in ancient Chinese ideas and astrology) and the twelve animals of the calendar

In ancient China, there existed two ideas, "Gogyosetsu" according to which all things consist of five elements, wood, fire, earth, gold, water; and "Onmyodo" whereby all things consist of two elements, Yin and Yang. Based on this, there are ten elements, as each of the five has Yin and Yang, and the ten are called "E (Kan)" and are expressed by ten Chinese characters.

E (Kan)
Chinese Japanese
Ko or Kinoe
Otsu or Kinoto
Hei or Hinoe
Tei or Hinoto
Bo or Tsuchinoe
Ki or Tsuchinoto
Ko or Kanoe
Shin or Konoto
Jin or Mizunoe
Ki or Mizunoto

There were also twelve "To (Shi)" which were formed by assigning animals to twelve Chinese characters that originally expressed twelve months. In China and Japan, these ten Es and twelve Tos were used to express years, days, time and direction, by combining one character each from the former and the latter types.

To (Shi)
Chinese Japanese English
Shi or Ne Mouse or Rat
Chu or Ushi Cow or Ox
In or Tora Tiger
Bo or U Hare or Rabbit
Shin or Tatsu Dragon
Shi or Mi Snake
Go or Uma Horse
Bi or Hitsuji Ram or Sheep
Shin or Saru Monkey
Yu or Tori Cock, Hen or Rooste
Jutsu or Inu Dog
Gai or I Boar