Japan to welcome ′Reiwa′ era after Emperor Akihito steps down | News | DW | 01.04.2019
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Japan to welcome 'Reiwa' era after Emperor Akihito steps down

The "Heisei" imperial era will end on April 30 when Emperor Akihito steps down. Japan's government says the imperial era associated with his successor will be known as "Reiwa."

The Japanese government said on Monday that the era associated with Japan's next emperor Naruhito will be "Reiwa."

The era — beginning on May 1 — will mark the end of the "Heisei" era, which began in 1989 and coincides with the reign of current Emperor Akihito.

What's the significance of the change?

  • The 85-year-old Akihito is set to relinquish the Chrysanthemum Throne on April 30, the first such abdication in about 200 years.
  • The old name "Heisei" means "achieving peace" and refers to the period after the death of Emperor Hirohito, in whose name Japan fought World War II.
  • The new name, Reiwa, consists of two "kanji" Chinese characters "Rei," signifying order, and "Wa," meaning harmony or peace.
  • Era names are important signifiers of cultural periods in Japanese history and are still used in official documents.

Tradition meets change

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the new term was rooted in Japanese poetry and came from the "Manyoshu" anthology of verse, which dates back some 1,200 years.

Read more: How Japan's Akihito redefined the role of emperor

The era "symbolizes our nation's profound public culture and long tradition," said Abe, stressing that a new era could represent a new beginning for every individual.

"Just like amazing plum flowers in full bloom that signal the arrival of spring after a bitter cold, each and every Japanese person can hope for the future and make their own flowers blossom," said Abe.

What's in a name?

Japan has had nearly 250 eras, known as either "gengo" or "nengo," since the system was adopted in the seventh century.

The name is the first of two elements that identify a year, with the second being a number that counts the years from the beginning of an era.

Read more: How Japan is using an old German map to irk South Korea

Each era now runs for the rule of a monarch, although in the past they have been changed mid-reign — for instance, to denote times of disaster.

Era names must normally consist of two kanji characters that are easy to read and write. They should not include common names or the first characters from any of the last four eras.

There have been four era names in the modern period

Meiji: This coincides with the rule of Emperor Meiji between 1868 to 1912. It covers a time when Japan made the transition from being an isolated feudal society to a modern, industrialized nation-state.

Taisho: The Taisho era covers the rule of Emperor Taisho, from 1912 to 1926. It denotes the period in which political power shifted from a sickly emperor to an oligarchic group of elder statesmen.

The coronation of Hirohito on December 25, 1926 (picture-alliance/dpa/Pan-Asia)

The coronation of Hirohito on December 25, 1926, marked the start of a period blighted by ultranationalism and war

Showa: The era of "radiant" or "enlightened" harmony, from 1926 to 1989, actually covers a tumultuous time in Japanese history. It includes the ultranationalist and fascist period of World War II, subsequent occupation by Allied powers and the Japanese economic miracle. Hirohito's reign, and therefore the period, was the longest in Japanese history.

Heisei: This era, from 1989 to the present, saw the culmination of a rapid economic growth spurt that had begun in 1985 and that gave way to a prolonged period of economic stagnation.

amp,rc/jil (AP, dpa)

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