Home » Japanese Culture and Traditions » Comparing 午前 and 午後 with A.M. and P.M.

Comparing 午前 and 午後 with A.M. and P.M.

Comparing 午前 and 午後 with A.M. and P.M.
Chiyon's Nihongo no Tamatebako


Comparing 午前 and 午後 with A.M. and P.M.


Quick: Is Noon 12 a.m. or 12 p.m.?


The 12-hour notation using A.M. and P.M. is common in many parts of the English speaking world.  One o’clock through eleven o’clock in the morning is written as 1 a.m., 2 a.m., etc.  And one o’clock through eleven o’clock in the evening is written as 1 p.m., 2 p.m., etc. 


But Midnight is 12 a.m. and Noon is 12 p.m.  Most English speakers simply have this memorized, but for those of us who have trouble keeping this straight, Wikipedia’s entry on this subject has this bit of advice:


“In the United States, noon is often called ‘12:00 p.m.’ and midnight ‘12:00 a.m.’. With this convention, thinking of ‘12’ as ‘0’ makes the system completely logical.”


With that in mind (midnight=0 a.m.), the Japanese way of counting time is easier to understand. 


From zero o’clock (midnight) to eleven o’clock in the morning we write

  • Midnight is 午前0時 (ごぜんれいじ)
  • 午前1時(ごぜんいちじ)
  • 午前2時(ごぜんにじ)・・・・・・
  • 午前10時(ごぜんじゅうじ)
  • 午前11時(ごぜんじゅういちじ)
  • And Noon is 午前12時(ごぜんじゅうにじ). 

Government offices or insurance companies in Japan write time this way with Midnight being 午前0時 and noon being 午前12時.


However, the media (TV, radio, newspapers, etc) and most people in daily life call noon 午後0時. 


Japanese digital clocks show noon as 12:00 p.m.  Following the Japanese style, noon on the clocks really should be 12:00 a.m. or 0:00 p.m. (with 12:00 p.m. being midnight = 午後12時 or 午前0時)


We often use 午前・午後 in the same way as the English a.m. and p.m.  This makes our time system confusing.


At the moment, 午前12時 seems to be the correct way to indicate noon in Japanese law.


Of course it may be best to ignore the problem and cheat a little. In English ‘noon’ or ‘midnight’ makes the intended time clear.  Likewise in Japanese it is best to simply say お昼の12時 for noon and 夜中の12時 for midnight:


Let’s meet at 12o’clock at noon.


Please call me at 12 o’clock midnight.

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