Apr 1, 2019

Japan names new imperial era beginning May 1 "Reiwa"

Japan's new era beginning May 1 will be named "Reiwa," with Crown Prince Naruhito due to ascend to the throne that day to succeed his father Emperor Akihito, the government said Monday.

The era name was chosen because it signifies people joining their hearts to develop Japan's culture, according to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Japan names new imperial era beginning May 1 "Reiwa" photo

The Japanese leader said the new era name, or "gengo," was adopted from a Japanese classic for the first time in more than 1,300 years of the era system being in use.

The choice reflects the nationalist leanings of Abe's conservative government, observers said. In modern Japan, era names are used for the length of an emperor's reign.

The era name is a matter of huge public interest in Japan as it will be widely used in calendars, newspapers, official documents and certificates including drivers' licenses.

Japan names new imperial era beginning May 1 "Reiwa" photo

(Emperor Akihito, left, and Crown Prince Naruhito)

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga held up a work of calligraphy at an announcement press conference showing Reiwa's two Chinese characters. In this context, the first character "rei" means "good" and the second represents "harmony" or "peace." A government source said it was picked from six candidates.

"The name Reiwa means that culture is born and grows when people come together and care for each other beautifully," Abe said.

He said Japan's 248th gengo derived from "Manyoshu," an eighth-century collection of Japanese poetry, is symbolic of the country's rich culture and long tradition. Since Taika, the first gengo which started in 645, all era names with identifiable sources were drawn from Chinese classics.

"We sincerely expect the new era to be widely accepted by the public and deeply rooted in the lives of Japanese people," the premier said, adding he hopes that the new era will be a promising one for young generations.

Neither Abe nor Suga made public who suggested Reiwa and other potential names, citing their wishes and the need to avoid any trouble by specifying who proposed which name.

The Abe Cabinet decided the new era name after hearing opinions of nine experts from media, business, academia and other circles as well as Diet leaders.

Gengo are usually announced after the accession of the new monarch. But with Emperor Akihito stepping down on April 30 as the first Japanese monarch to do so in about 200 years, the government decided to unveil the new era name prior to the imperial succession to minimize disruption caused by the calendar change.

The nine members of an expert panel included Sadayuki Sakakibara, former chairman of the Japan Business Federation, Kyoto University professor Shinya Yamanaka, who won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 2012 for developing so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, and Japanese award-winning novelist Mariko Hayashi.

The current Heisei era, which means "achieving peace," commenced on Jan. 8, 1989, the day after Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, died.

Japan is the only country in the world that currently operates under the era name system, which has its roots in China, though it also commonly uses the Gregorian calendar.

Japan names new imperial era beginning May 1 "Reiwa" photo

Some people claim the use of two styles is troublesome, but others support the gengo system because it evokes an image of certain historical events and represents the mood of each period. For example, the 1868 political revolution in Japan is called the "Meiji Restoration."

The era names in modern Japan are Meiji (1868-1912), Taisho (1912-1926) and Showa (1926-1989), followed by Heisei.

In principle, the government seeks to choose a name that is composed of two Chinese characters, or kanji in Japanese, and carries a positive meaning appropriate to the ideals of the people. It should also be easy to write and read, not commonly used and not used in previous era names.

On March 14, the government officially requested experts in such fields as Japanese literature, Chinese literature, Japanese history and East Asia history to craft their era name proposals, according to Suga.

The 85-year-old emperor expressed his desire to step down in a rare video message televised in 2016, citing his concern that he might not be able to fulfill his official duties due to his advanced age. In the following year, Japan's parliament enacted one-off legislation enabling him to abdicate.

The government initially considered deciding and making public the new gengo by the end of 2018 in view of the impact the era name change will have on people's lives.

But some government officials and conservative lawmakers in Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party expressed concerns that announcing the name of the new era considerably earlier than its start could lead to the dual authority of the old and new emperors.

As a result, the government decided to unveil the name on April 1, saying a one-month preparation period is enough for government offices and private companies to update their gengo calendar systems.

Japan names new imperial era beginning May 1 "Reiwa" photo



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