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Days of the week: East meets West


Have you ever wondered why the Japanese calendar system has seven days just like we have all over the West and why the meetings of Sunday and Monday seemingly match up (”sun” day and “moon” day) while the rest of the Japanese days are so different from what we use in English or in any Latin-based language? The Japanese words for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, kayōbi, suiyōbi, mokuyōbi kin’yōbi, and doyōbi, basically mean “fire day”, “water day”, “wood day”, “gold day”, and “earth day”. In Latin-based languages, such as French Mardi (think “Mardi Gras” or Fat Tuesday), Mercredi, Jeudi, Vendredi, and Samedi, the names are based on the planets Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn. In English, we get some of the names from Norse gods (Wednesday comes from Odin’s Day and Thursday comes from Thor’s Day). The Roman names for the planets are also names of their gods.

It turns out that the Asian system, the Chinese words that are also the basis for the Japanese and Vietnamese day names, is also based on the same planets. While “ka” and “sui” mean “fire” and “water” in Japanese they also mean Mars and Mercury among other things. The rest of the days also match up with the same planets that the ancient Greeks and Romans used.

So there you have it. Memorize the five innermost planets that the ancients knew about in the order that they saw them and you can pretty much recognize the days of the week in any Romance language and learn their translation into either Japanese, Chinese, or Vietnamese and you should be able to recognize the days of the week in Japanese because the words are all cognate although the Chinese and Vietnamese systems no longer uses the same words.

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