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What does 明ける mean?

I get different definitions some say it's dawn others say it's end.

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    It depends on the context, could you provide some examples? For now, you may consult this English dictionary: jisho.org/search/%E6%98%8E%E3%81%91%E3%82%8B
    – Nameless
    Oct 20, 2021 at 20:57
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    Jisho.org has somewhat sloppily combined many things into their 明【あ】ける entry, and they have confusing and unclear notation -- Six of the ten senses listed in their 明【あ】ける entry are not applicable to the 明【あ】ける spelling, and are restricted instead to the spellings 開【あ】ける or 空【あ】ける. Read their entries carefully. Oct 20, 2021 at 21:18

2 Answers 2

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明ける appears to mean either "to start" or "to end" in certain set phrases, and that's probably why it may seem confusing.

From jisho.org

However, 明ける doesn't originally mean either of those things. I think the fundamental meaning of 明ける is "to become bright" or "to move to a brighter/positive/active period".

  • 年が明ける: the old year ends and the new year starts (which is worth celebrating)
  • 夜が明ける: the night ends and the day starts (i.e., dawn)
  • 夏休みが明ける: a summer vacation ends (and an active period starts)
  • 梅雨が明ける: a rainy season ends (and the hotter and brighter season starts)
  • 喪が明ける: the period of mourning ends (and we're in a brighter mood now)

Note that 明ける is used with specific words including ones listed above as the subject. We don't usually use 明ける when something gets darker or less active (either physically or psychologically).

As a noun, 年明け refers to the beginning of a year, but 夜明け refers to the end of a night. This may seem inconsistent at first, but they actually consistently refer to "a period after some positive/bright change". (Of course many people think 休み明け (post-vacation period) is not fun, but that's another story.)

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What you've discovered is that English translations are not always helpful, particularly when a word is used rather idiomatically and in a less strictly literal fashion.

My Japanese-Japanese dictionary lists three meanings for 明ける

  • 明るくなる。朝になる。
  • 新しい年になる
  • 一定の期間がすぎる。期限が満了する

The first two definitions are not too hard to understand or discern.

The third one is a bit more difficult to grasp and understand (at least from a too literal thinking about "light"). Consider the following sentences lifted from my Japanese-English dictionary:

  • 梅雨が明けた。 The rainy season ended.
  • 刑期があけた。 His sentence came to an end. (Ie., he served his sentence.)

The idea here is along the lines something coming to complete fullness and thus being complete; having fully (満) completed itself and come its end (了).

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