On Monday, April 1 at 11.30 am, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced Reiwa as the name of the new era in Japanese history. The two characters of the name mean “beautiful”, and “harmony.” The name was taken from Man’yōshū, 8th century anthology of Japanese poetry. This is the first time an era name is chosen from a Japanese work of poetry, as opposed to a Chinese work.
In a fashion reminiscent of the announcement of the Heisei era 30 years ago on January 7, 1989, Mr. Suga held up a plaque with the handwritten characters of the new era at the April 1 press conference at the Prime Minister’s office and residence.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had commented earlier in the morning: “I would like to choose a name to reflect a new era full of hope.” Mr. Abe followed, providing an explanation of the reasons the name was chosen.
“Embracing a spirit of hope, I want to create a society where the ambitions of the Japanese people can be realised, as if creating an environment where different flowers bloom.” He continued “The meaning [in the poem] is when people’s hearts are in harmony with one another, culture is born and can thrive.”
When asked why in particular the name was based on Man’yōshū, the Prime Minister explained: “Man’yōshū symbolizes the unity among all members of Japanese society”, he continued “Even though the eras change, the real colors of Japan don’t fade, and there is value in that.”
Reiwa is the 248th era of Japan’s Chrysanthemum Throne, an imperial dynasty that has been in place more than 1,399 years.
The name of the imperial era holds cultural importance as official documents, birthdays, and coins, among other things, follow the Japanese eras rather than the Western calendar for noting the passage of time.
In addition, eras are often associated with cultural references of their time.
The selection of the name followed a painstaking process. A panel of experts — which includes academics, journalists, businessmen, and others such as novelist Mariko Hayashi and Shinya Yamanaka, 2012 Nobel Prize winner in the category Physics or Medicine — met on the morning of April 1 to discuss an already narrowed-down list of choices.
After listening to opinions of both the chairman and vice chairman of the upper and lower houses of the Diet, the Cabinet members made the final choice, which was announced by Yoshihide Suga in front of a full house at the press conference.
The selection of the name of the next era is particularly significant this year as the reigning Emperor Akihito is the first ruler to abdicate in more than 200 years. The 85-year-old emperor announced in 2016 that he wished to step aside due to his concern that his advancing age might prevent him from fully carrying out his duties. Subsequently, the government passed a special law allowing him to abdicate.
For the background of the new name and how it was chosen, click here.