Yesterday morning at 11:42 a.m., the Japanese government announced the name of Japan’s new era: Reiwa.
The name is written as 令和 in Japanese, and the characters can be translated to mean “order” or “command,” and “harmony” or “peace” respectively. Speculations for the English translation for Reiwa have spanned from the fascist-leaning “peace by order” to the softer “order and harmony.” Well, it turns out it’s actually “beautiful harmony,” according to a just-released bulletin.
The name was supposedly the first to be inspired from traditional Japanese writings—the oldest collection of poetry called 万葉集 (Manyoshu) meaning “Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves.” However, some have voiced their opinion that the original citation is actually from Chinese classical literature, the same as all previous era names.
Era names, called gengo in Japanese, are used as long as that era’s emperor is in power. This means that Reiwa will be used for the duration of Naruhito’s reign. A change in era is a big event in Japan as gengo is widely used, for example in official documents, government forms, and calendars.
In order to choose the gengo name for this era, the Japanese government requested proposals from experts in fields such as Japanese literature, Chinese literature, Japanese history, and East Asian history. The government decided on “Reiwa” within a very tight two-hour period yesterday morning—a decision made to prevent leaks ahead of the official announcement.
So what do people think of the name Reiwa?
True to form, people online immediately started pointing out possible flaws in the name. The main issue was the “R18” problem. Because Japanese calendar years are often abbreviated with the gengo name’s first alphabet letter, Reiwa Year 18 will be abbreviated as R18, identical to the mature rating.
@Kamui_95 shared his concerns by saying, “The thing I’m worried about with ‘Reiwa’ is that when people have to represent Reiwa Year 18, it’ll become R18… lol.”
The issue became so pertinent, in fact, that “Reiwa Year 18” became the number one trending keyword on Twitter with over 320,000 tweets, compared to Reiwa Year 1 with only around 200,000 tweets.
However, other Twitter users brought up a good point demonstrating that the year R18 will be no big deal. After all, the past thirty years in Japan have suffered a similar problem.
— ༺࿌❖ 仙水風楽 ❖࿌༻ (@under_world_DTM) April 1, 2019
As @under_world_DTM described, “Reiwa Year 18’s ‘R18’ thing is a hot topic, but everyone born in Heisei Era has ‘H’ in their year, so what’s the big deal?”
“Heisei” is the name of the current era under Emperor Akihito. Similar to “R18,” the letter “H” has a sexual connotation in Japanese due to its widespread use as an abbreviation for “hentai,” meaning perverted or sexual. When you think about that, R18 doesn’t seem like quite a big deal anymore.
Other funny comments are being made comparing R1 (Reiwa Year 1) to the popular Japanese yogurt brand, R-1.
— ⚧ 超絶優しい ツイッタラー あまぎ (@umarun_com) April 1, 2019
User @umarun_com tweeted, “Reiwa Year 1… R1… R1? Like the R-1 yogurt!!! And in 18 years… R18. Reiwa is crazy!!!”
Another issue surrounding Reiwa is the confusion around just how to write its first character. Apparently, there are two ways to write this kanji, as shown below.
— retro (@verne_x) April 1, 2019
@verne_x explains, “I hope there’s no needless confusion about how to write the new gengo name’s ‘Rei’ character—some people really seem to care about which of the two ways to write it is correct. #newgengo #reiwa.”
That sounds like it certainly could get confusing!
On a more serious note, others are pointing out the political implications of the new name, especially around Prime Minister Abe’s explanation that Reiwa was inspired by ancient Japanese poetry.
— ろだん 論壇net (@rondan_net) April 1, 2019
@rondan_net wrote, “The Prime Minister’s party obviously knew that Reiwa is actually derived from Chinese classics. This is probably a well-executed compromise to keep the crazy conservatives happy while protecting established tradition.” With the input of experts in both Japanese and Chinese literature, it seems they would be well aware of the difference.
Nevertheless, Japanese opinions are generally favorable about the traditional feel of the name “Reiwa,” including Twitter user @ikoma_TAIDOU.
He wrote, “Reiwa! It has such a relaxed feel and dignity to it, and it feels very traditional and Japanese. Everyone’s celebrating like it’s a festival! It’s so exciting, like when a baby’s name is announced. What a wonderful and happy feeling.”
It really is like a baby name announcement—everyone has their own opinion, but in general, most people are excited for both the name and the birth of this new era.