I am wondering about the history about the beginning of the week. Although some recent calendars start their week on Monday, "traditionally", the Japanese start their week on Sunday (so that 今週の日曜日 will always be in the past). But this is a fairly new tradition.

Why was Sunday made the beginning of the week when Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar?

There is a lunar calendar (睦月, 如月, 弥生, etc.) and a solar calendar (七十二候). Furthermore, there is the concept of auspicious days, in which a week has 6 days and a bunch more of calendar-type conventions.

Do any of these contain a "Sunday" as beginning of their respective concepts of a week?

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    I have never come across 今週の日曜日 as being in the past before: 今週末 or 先週末 always seem to include the coming/next sunday respectively but I have come across this in the West where I have also seen calendars that begin on Sunday and even had discussions about it.
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 13:32

3 Answers 3



It seems that the first people in Japan to adopt "the week" (as something other than a divinatory tool) did so because they had no choice: they were dealing with European or American traders in Yokohama, or they were working alongside "hired foreigners" in government, education, or the military. It made no sense for them to turn up to work when your trading partners or co-workers were taking the day off, or vice versa.

Okada doesn't mention why the Meiji government didn't just write "must work on Sundays" into their contracts for hired help, but the religious component was probably a factor. Back then more Christians took the Sabbath seriously. In any case, if all of your external consultants say "a seven-day week with 1.5 days off is the only way to run a government/army/school," eventually you're going to start to believe it.

  • Although the linked page looks interesting, I fail to see its connection to the question. Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 1:27
  • I thought the question was "Why was Sunday made the beginning of the week when Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar?" Sorry.
    – Avery
    Commented Sep 3, 2012 at 7:38
  • “I thought the question was ‘Why was Sunday made the beginning of the week when Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar?’”: I understand the question in the same way, but where is that question addressed in your quotation or your link? Commented Sep 3, 2012 at 12:17
  • The person asking the question doesn't seem to realize that Sunday is the first day of the European calendar and that Japan simply adopted the European calendar using the names of the days from their old astrological calendar. So I added that information. In fact nkjt gave the same answer in the comments to the other answer. If there's any other question waiting to be answered here I don't see it.
    – Avery
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 6:02

I asked colleagues on the 2012/08/30 - so previous and next sundays are the 26th and the 3rd - about this because I did not have issue so far and I got curious.

14:56 (oldergod) 今週の日曜日ってゆうたら、3日の事になりますか?それか26日のことですか?週は日曜日から始まるからこうゆうたらどっちに当たるんでしょう?
14:59 (tanaka) 普通は26日だと思います。少なくとも、私はそう思っています。
15:00 (Yoshida) 本来は週の初めは日曜日なんですが、感覚的に月曜日が週の初めという人も多いので
15:01 (Yoshida) 日曜日に関しては、今週の~とか使わないのが良いなと思っています。
15:01 (tanaka) まあ、「この前の日曜」「次の日曜」と言った方が安全ですよね。

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    Interesting information, but without context, it will be impossible to really make anything of it (especially in a couple months when people cannot easily figure on what day this question was asked).
    – Dave
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 2:54
  • added info for this.
    – oldergod
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 4:02
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    For the record, the upcoming Sunday is Sept. 2nd - at least on my calendar today.
    – ento
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 16:54
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    @ento: That must be the biggest reason why 今週の日曜日 cannot refer to Sept. 3. :) Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 0:10
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    @oldergod: “Do native speakers need to justify how they feel about their own language?”: Yoshida-san says “本来は週の初めは日曜日なんです.” It is not an expression of a personal feeling but an assertion about history. Obviously, being native speakers does not automatically justify their factual claims. Commented Sep 3, 2012 at 12:29

A lot of users on here simply assume a Eurocentric worldview to everything without doing even basic research on anything. The answers a lot of the time are as ridiculous as reading Afrocentrist people and their clear self bias.

If you are interested in actual history and the reality of the world, instead of wanting to stroke your insecure ego, then the below is the actual history of Japanese days and their calendar.

  1. The original 7 days originates in ancient Mesopotamia and is based on the 7 lights in the sky (sun, moon, Venus, Saturn, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter). Yes I am sorry it isn't a European invention and Europeans only adopted it from Mesopotamia after spreading to Greece and then Rome and then the rest of Europe.
  2. This system didn't spread to just Europe, it spread to India, and then from India into China. As you know China had a lot of influence on early Japanese culture, and this is where Japan in turn got the 7 day week from. The writings of the Chinese Scholar Fan Ning in the 300's prove that this system had made it to China by this date. The Chinese used element names in place of the planet names.
  3. A Japanese monk brought this system back from mainland Buddhists in the year 806. Soon after Japanese astronomers learned of this and worked these 7 days into the Japanese calendar. There is still a surviving diary of a Japanese statesman from the year 1007 who uses this system of dating. It was commonly used in Japan by this time.

The "west" or "Europeans" did not invent this system, nor did they introduce it to Japan. Again I am sorry if real history doesn't stroke your ego, but those are the facts.

So what did Japan adopt during interactions with western countries? Well Japan already had months, years and naming of the 7 days in a cycle (as did China, where Japan got it from originally).

So what actually was introduced via western contact primarily in the west's heyday in the 19th century was the Gregorian calendar.

All Japanese know the Gregorian calendar today, they still use the original Japanese calendar as well for official duties, yet the Gregorian calendar is actually more common in everyday Japanese life today than the traditional Japanese calendar. It was during the Meiji era that the co-adoption of the Gregorian system was chosen.

The Gregorian calendar itself was a model Europeans made after they themselves adopted the Mesopotamian/Babylonian system. This particular Gregorian calendar was formulated in 1582 by a pope in Italy. Europeans of course long knew of the months and weeks and years because they had known of this Mesopotamian/Babylonian system ever since around the 1st century AD when Rome first adopted it via Greece. The Gregorian calendar is based 99% on this, except it lists dates in relation to Christ as BC and AD.

Yet modern people call these common era and before common era to remove the religious connotations. The Gregorian calendar's months and years did not align to the same times in the Chinese and Japanese calendar. Meaning the original Japanese lunar based system had it's month prior to the Gregorian calendar and thus the years started and ended at different times as well, despite both operating on a 12 month and 7 day system.

Upon adopting the Gregorian calendar, the Japanese used their own traditional 7 day week names in the Gregorian calendar system. And used their traditional month names as well.

Japan and China had always considered Sunday the start of the week, as this is from the ancient Mesopotamian system which they based their own off in ancient times.

The concept of Monday being the first day is a newer concept and Monday is technically considered the first day of the week by international standards. This means that most modern European countries consider Monday the first day of the week.

In Japan the first day of the week is Sunday, like it always has been since the 9th century and also has been in China since the 4th century. And this has nothing to do with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar or Europeans I am afraid.

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