All the dictionary entries I have found for 明ける include definitions that are almost opposites of each other. More specifically, in some of the definitions, 明ける means something like "to begin", while in others (within the same dictionary entry!) it means something like "to end."
I have been able to find example sentences that illustrate the second group of definitions pretty unambiguously. For example:
I wish winter vacation would not end. ✓
The alternative (明ける ≈ "begin") interpretation does not sound likely:
I wish winter vacation would not begin. ✗
In contrast, all the example sentences I have found that supposedly illustrate the "to begin" meaning seem to me ambiguous, at best.
For example, the sentence
...is typically translated as something like
The year begins.
...but it is not obvious to me why. After all, the translation
The year ends.
...would also fit the same situation, since whenever a year begins another year ends. Why is the latter never given as the translation for the original Japanese sentence?
It gets worse, though. The following example is almost shocking in its perversity. The following sentence is often given as an illustration of the "to begin" meaning of 明ける
The translation given for it is typically something like
The day dawns.
And yet 夜(=よる/よ) means literally night, and therefore it seems to me blindingly obvious that the original sentence says, literally
The night ends.
Given this blatantly straighforward translation, it seems to me just willful to insist that, in that sentence, 明ける means "to dawn".
In fact, I even came across the following sentence:
I hope that this sentence makes it obvious that the only reasonable translation for 明ける here is "to end," even though it is always translated as "to dawn."
(I realize that the end of the night coincides with the beginning of the day, but this does not mean that "to end" is interchangeable with "to begin.")
I am looking for an example sentence featuring 明ける where the only possible interpretation would require it to be translated as something like "to begin."
Alternatively, I would like to know how native speakers of Japanese interpret the verb 明ける when it appears in a context different from set phrases. For example, how would a native speaker of Japanese interpret the following sentence?
Did the ordeal begin on June 16, 1904, or did it end?
Granted, contributing to the perversity are the facts that
- The words 開ける and 空ける, which have the same reading (あける), both have meanings related to "opening up", which is consonant with the general sense of "to begin";
- The character 明 means "bright", and therefore is suggestive of the dawn.
These two inconvenient facts notwithstanding, I have not been able to find an example of 明ける that does not fit the interpretation "to end".