Japan Announces the Name of Its New Era

It's 'Reiwa'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 1, 2019 9:16 AM CDT
The Name of Japan's New Era Is Sharply Different
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks beside the name of new era "Reiwa" on display at the Prime Minister's office in Tokyo, Monday, April 1, 2019. Japan says next emperor Naruhito's era name is Reiwa, effective May 1 when he takes the throne from his father.   (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

There have been four eras in Japan's modern history—and on Monday, the nation learned what its fifth would be called. The country's chief Cabinet secretary announced it by raising a board displaying two characters: Rei and Wa, for the "Reiwa" era. The BBC explains it's a name that indicates order and harmony, and it will be ushered in on May 1 along with a new emperor, the country's 126th: Naruhito. His 85-year-old father, Emperor Akihito, will abdicate on April 30, ending the Heisei era, translated as "achieving peace." More:

  • Each emperor's reign, known as "gengo," gets a name that is used on calendars, coins, driver's licenses, and government paperwork. Bloomberg notes documents currently reference 2019 as the "31st year of Heisei." The three other most recent eras were the Showa era ("enlightened harmony"; 1926-1989), the Taisho era ("great righteousness"; 1912-1926) and the Meiji era ("enlightened rule"; 1868-1912).

  • Scholars of and experts on classical Chinese and Japanese literature offered a list of recommendations—the name was to be uncommon but also simple to read and write—and the country's Cabinet made the final selection.
  • The AP reports for 1,400 years era names have been sourced from Chinese classics. In an about-face, this one came from the Mayoshu, a collection of 7th- and 8th-century Japanese poetry—the country's oldest. The poems contained within were penned by both royals and ordinary citizens, which the head of the National Institute of Japanese Literature says makes it a great anthology to pull from, as it contains the voice of the people.
  • The characters were found in a poem about plum blossoms, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the name was chosen "with hopes of making Japan a nation where every person can achieve dreams, like the plum flowers that bloom beautifully after a severe winter to signal the start of spring."
  • But the New York Times notes there is some confusion around the meaning of Reiwa due to the "nature of Japanese kanji characters." The characters can be read as meaning "order and peace," "auspicious harmony" and "joyful harmony." (Bloomberg translated it to "auspicious calm.") A rep for Abe said "order and peace" was not the chosen meaning.
  • Some interesting history from the Washington Post: "The concept of Imperial eras comes from the ancient Chinese idea that the emperor rules even time itself. Japan has had 247 era names since the system was instituted in 645, but it was not until the start of the Meiji era in 1868 that a single era name has been used for a single emperor."
(More Japan stories.)

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