On May of 2017, the Japanese government passed a one-off legislation that would enable its figurehead but well-revered Emperor Akihito to do something he has desired since as early as the year 2010: to step down from the Chrysanthemum Throne in favor of his heir, Crown Prince Naruhito. The bill set his official abdication to happen this April 30, whereupon Naruhito will become the new Emperor on May 1. As part of this Imperial transition, a new era name would be given to replace Akihito’s “Heisei” period. This Monday, that new Imperial era name was revealed ahead of the transition.
CNN reports that the Japanese government formally announced that the era of the future Emperor Naruhito’s reign in Japan, after his father Akihito abdicates, will be “Reiwa.” In a televised press conference, the new era name was presented, rendered in calligraphy on a board, by Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. In his statement he hoped that the people of Japan will widely accept Reiwa and allow it to take root in Japanese life. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe adds that Reiwa as the new era name is representative of “a culture being born and nurtured by people coming together beautifully.”
Reiwa was chosen by Japanese government officials from a final pool of five candidate era names. Its source is from the Man’yoshu, an anthology of ancient Japanese poetry from 759 AD, the Nara period. It thus becomes the 248th era name in Japan’s long history, which begins in tradition accounting from Emperor Jimmu in 600 BC. Totaling tradition and history, there have been 125 Emperors with Akihito being the latest. The discrepancy in Emperors and era names stems from the older practice of changing era names with every significant event happening in an Emperor’s life; assigning only one era name for an Emperor’s entire life is a fairly recent development.
Reiwa is also being touted as the first time Japan chose an era name from a native Japanese literary source; earlier era names were supposedly take from Chinese literature, especially since early Japan did take plenty of inspiration from China.
The western year 2019 is equated to Year 31 of Heisei under Emperor Akihito in Japan; he began his reign in 1989 following the death of his father Hirohito, who is posthumously called the Showa Emperor after his era name. Heisei is expected to end on Akihito’s abdication this April 30. Upon Naruhito being named Emperor by May 1, the latter half of 2019 will become known as Reiwa Year 1 until May 1, 2020.
The early announcement of the era name before the actual transition of Japanese emperors is a modern innovation of tradition, extended as a courtesy for paper product manufacturers to update their calendars, forms and other items. Japanese computers and software will also need similar updating.
Image courtesy of Japan Today