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Reiwa: The Start of a New Era in Japan

Japan’s new era will start on May 1 and is all about people “beautifully” nurturing culture.

By 3 min read

Japan is about to start a new era — quite literally.

In one month’s time, on May 1 of this year, Crown Prince Naruhito will ascend the Japanese throne, succeeding his father, the current emperor Akihito who will abdicate on April 30. This will bring not only a new monarch for the country but also a new era of the Japanese gengo calendar — in which years are named after the ruling emperor — and will coincide with (and affect) this year’s extra long Golden Week holiday period.

Currently, we are in the era of Heisei with this year (2019) being Heisei 31 — the 31st year of Akihito’s reign and the name that will be given to the emperor in posterity. After Akihito’s abdication — the first in 200 years — he will forever be known and remembered as the Emperor Heisei — like his father, Emperor Showa (1926 – 1989), his grandfather Emperor Taisho (1912 – 1926) and his great grandfather Emperor Meiji (1868 – 1912).

The era names are deliberated carefully before they’re announced as they will come to be synonymous with the times and events after. The era itself will be closely intertwined with Japanese people in their everyday lives. Heisei was determined to mean “achieving peace” for its English translation.

As far as history goes, the Heisei era covered a time of great economic upheaval, an increase in globalization and declining birth rates. In comparison, the Showa era is remembered as a move to militarism, aggression in Asia, Japan’s defeat and occupation after World War II and its re-emergence as a democracy and commercial powerhouse in the 1980s.

What will the new era be called?

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced the two-kanji name at 11:42 a.m. on April 1 as “Reiwa.” He has revealed that the characters were taken from Japan’s oldest existing anthology of poetry known as Manyoshu (“Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves”). The first kanji character, rei, has meanings of “good” or “beautiful,” as well as “order” or “rule.” The second character, wa, has definitions that include “harmony,” “peace” and “Japanese style.”

No official English translation has been released for the era name as of yet.

“We hope (the era name) will be widely accepted by the people and deeply rooted as part of their daily lives,” Suga told reporters in first announcing the name — written in two Chinese characters in black ink calligraphy on a white background — as reported by the Associated Press on Japan Today.

Following Suga’s big reveal of the Reiwa era kanji, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed the media at noon from his official residence in Tokyo describing why this particular name was chosen, its meaning and its resonance for Japanese people moving forward.

A National Holiday for June

The AP went on to report Abe as saying: “… the name means that culture is born and nurtured as the people beautifully care about each other. With this selection of a new era name, I renew my commitment to pioneer a new era that will be filled with hope.”

And with that, cue a wave of nostalgia — something already in full swing as Japan’s citizens engage in all manner of “last” activities such as the last hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, of the Heisei era — as well as a commercial bonanza as calendar and diary publishers, train companies, computer software makers and numerous other businesses rush to update their products with the new era name that will be used in everyday life for the next few decades.

For those foreigners living and working in Japan from now through May and beyond — they can literally say they have lived through the start of a new era.

Welcome to Reiwa.

What do you think about the new era name and the reason it was chosen? Do you think it will embody the coming decades well or not? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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