I'm hoping there's a reason, because I keep forgetting which goes which way.

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    We can't expect next year, but next day. – Takahiro Waki Apr 3 '17 at 9:16
  • @TakahiroWaki In Finnish, lähivuosi and lähipäivä both refer to the future and "lähi-" has roughly the same meaning as 「近」. A different word, "viime" ("past/last"), is used to refer to the past. – siikamiika Apr 4 '17 at 5:21
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    @siikamiika Although it is possbile that "It would be fine tomorrow", "It would be fine today of next year." is still impossible. – Takahiro Waki Apr 4 '17 at 8:52
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    @TakahiroWaki I'm just saying that the meaning of a compound word can be different between languages even when the base words that form the compound have the same meaning. The meaning is defined by how people actually use the word. In my example lähi (近) + vuosi (年) (one of next few years) has a meaning that is the opposite of 近年 (recent years). – siikamiika Apr 4 '17 at 15:39

I'm quite curious too, on why "some day" always means future while "the other day" past in English, but that's another matter.

Actually, it's not prohibited to use 近年 for future and 近日 for past in theory, but also customary to mean the other way, as overwhelmingly supported by actual usage. Similar words like 最近 or 近頃 usually stand for recent past, so 近日 is some kind of one odd out among them.

According to Yamagiwa (2014):

  • 「最近」の[この頃]が一般的に使用され始めるのは1910年代頃である。
    The "recent" sense of 最近 came into common use on ca. 1910.
  • 「近日」の[過]が減少する時期と「最近」の[この頃]が使用されるようになった時期がほぼ重なっている。
    The period when the past sense of 近日 declined and the "recent" sense of 最近 came into use is mostly overlapping.

He thus argues there is a correlation between the meaning shifts of 近日 and 最近; it is either the rise of 最近 made 近日 specific to future, or 近日's loss of past sense was made up by a new definition of 最近.

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  • Does this explain reason? – Takahiro Waki Apr 4 '17 at 8:59
  • @TakahiroWaki It's brute differentiation mechanism over logic, if what I cited is true. Like historic and historical. – broccoli facemask - cloth Apr 6 '17 at 14:49
  • I explain, see above. – Takahiro Waki Apr 7 '17 at 11:41

近日 in few days in past/future and 近年 in few years in past are both in a formal speech. The speaker can be sure about few days in a future. This is why we don't hear 近年 refer to future often.

But if you google "近年中に実現" there're many results, this way we can use 近年 for future references.

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