Last month, on April 1st, Japan’s new era name was announced: 令和 (Reiwa)。Officially, as of May 1st of 2019, Japan’s previous Heisei era with Emperor Akihito has come to an end with the ascending of Crown Prince Naruhito to the throne.
A Brief History
Japan’s era is an important marker for time in history. The Ansei era, for example, was named after a number of natural disasters happened in Japan. The name signified the meaning of “tranquil government” in hope of recovery from recent disastrous events. Similarly, the Showa era was named during the time when nationalism and fascism was on the rise in Japan (McKirdy et al., 2019). Eras are also marker for the period when an emperor “ruled” over Japan, as Emperor Hirohito was known as Emperor Shōwa, Emperor Akihito will be known as the Emperor Heisei.
The imperial family do not have influential authority in the parliament in making decisions or forming laws. So they it is not quite accurate to say they “ruled” however they are an important symbol representing Japan and its long-standing culture. Japan’s royal family is one of the oldest monarchy still existing today. I personally think it’s very impressive to hold traditional culture and modernization hand-in-hand for such a long time. As I watched the ascension ceremony of Crown Prince Naruhito, I see that the attires that dressed the officials as well as the royal families were very modernized. I half-expected to see traditional Japanese Montsuki, Hakama, Haori, and various other cultural attires. The ceremony gave a very solemn feeling to a modernized setting–definitely something I don’t see often.
The Meaning of Reiwa
Following the announcement of Emperor Akihito’s abdication in December 2016, something that hasn’t been done for more than 200 years ago, the Reiwa era name was revealed last month. The name consists of two characters 令和; the first translates to order or decree and the second translates to peace or harmony. Shinzō Abe, current Prime Minister of Japan, address the meaning of the name as a time when “culture is born and nourished as people’s hearts are drawn beautifully together” (Reiwa, 2019).
After being in Japan for about a month and a half now, it’s evident in the Japanese’s way of living that they prioritize harmony and order. In Japan’s bigger and busier cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, businesses must maintain order to run their job and help customers effectively. I remember during the chaotic lunch time rush in university, swarms of students would jam-pack a nearby convenient store in search for food. This made the check-out and cashier registers massively chaotic. However, the workers were very effective in directing incoming traffic and separating it from outgoing traffic. Needless to say, my purchase that day was as flawless as when there were no lunchtime rush.
As For Me…
On a lighter, non-history related note, the abdication of Emperor Akihito and ascension of Crown Prince Naruhito was significant to me in two ways. For one, I was able to be present in Japan during a significant change for the Japanese people. Though it’s not as impactful for me, a non-citizen, I can say that I was on the same ground and land as when the new Emperor was crowned in 2019. Second, and quite possibly more important one, is that this year’s Golden Week spans over unprecedented number of ten days! As of now, and for the remaining four days, I’m on a small break from school to continue my Kyoto/Japan exploration quest!
McKirdy, E., Ogura, J., and Griffiths, J. “Reiwa: Japan announces dawn of a new era” CNN. Apr 1, 2019. Web. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/03/31/asia/japan-new-era-reiwa-intl/index.html
“Reiwa: Naming a new era in Japan” BBC News. Apr 1, 2019. Web. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-47773042/reiwa-naming-a-new-era-in-japan