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Japan’s New Imperial Era Name Is Inspired by Classic 8th Century Poem

TOKYO – The Japanese government announced on Monday that it has named the new imperial era as Reiwa, a combination of two characters inspired by a classic poem.

The name is inspired by a poem from the Manyoshu collection, perhaps the oldest existing compilation of Japanese poetry from around the eighth century, and was one among the five which were shortlisted, government spokesperson Yoshihide Suga announced at a press conference.

The poetic passage is about how the favorable wind of the beginning of spring blows softly, harmoniously, allowing the plum tree blossoms to bloom and spreading the fragrance of the orchids.

The term combines two characters that can be translated as “good” or “order” and “peace” or “harmony.”

Reiwa takes the first ideogram of the term “Reigetsu” (favorable moment) that corresponds to harmony, peace or calm, and whose most common reading is “wa.”

It is a play on the deep meaning of this character, which is also used to designate style or of Japanese origin as in the words “washoku” or “Wagyu” (Japanese beef).

The choice of a name, inspired by Japanese classic literature, is a first and puts the focus on traditional Japanese values, said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a press conference, following the announcement.

Since the nomenclature of the eras began in the mid-7th century (the first was “Taika” in 645), the name has been taken from works in China, from which the “kanji” characters used by the Japanese language were imported and which deeply mark the political and cultural system of Japan.

“I want Japan to flourish as proudly as the plum blossoms,” which “bloom beautifully after a hard winter as a sign of spring’s arrival,” explained Abe, who hoped the name will promote unity in the country.

Suga hoped that the name will be well received by the public and becomes an integral part of their lives.

“It’s very different from the name I imagined, but I like it. It uses the sound ‘Rei,’ which recalls the ideogram of courtesy, something that the Japanese have not forgotten,” sixty-year-old Saori Tomita told EFE, adding that he hoped that the new era will be a good one.

Reiwa was chosen out of five names by a committee of nine experts from the Japanese business and academic world, including the Nobel laureate in Medicine Shinya Yamanaka and novelist Mariko Hayashi.

The announcement also marks the start of a month that will conclude with the abdication of Emperor Akihito, 85, on April 30, in favor of his firstborn, Naruhito, 59, in the first such abdication in the country since that of Kokaku in 1817.

The reign of Akihito lasted three decades – since January 1989 – called the “Heisei” era, a term formed by two characters that may be translated together as “achieving peace.”

Japan is the only country that continues with the process of the nomenclature of eras although it also uses the Gregorian calendar.

The announcement of the new era’s name is a matter of great public interest in Japan, as the nomenclature is used in a wide range of situations: calendars, official documents, certificates and even newspapers.

In modern Japan, the name of the era is used for the duration of the reign of an emperor and is generally announced after the crowning of the new monarch, but this time it has been preponed by a month to expedite the changes for administrative purposes.

Other names of the former Japanese eras are “Meiji” (enlightened government), that started in 1867 when the throne was occupied by Emperor Mutsuhito, “Taisho” (great legitimacy) from 1912, marking the reign of Emperor Yoshihito, and “Showa” (peace and harmony) from 1926, marking the reign of Emperor Hirohito.


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