Japan has announced that Reiwa will be the name of the era under the new Imperial reign set to begin on May I following the Emperor’s abdication.
Reiwa will be the 248th era in Japan since the Taika Era was established in 645 in the Asuka period. The name Reiwa was taken from Manyoshu, the oldest existing anthology of Japanese poems compiled in the Nara period. We welcome the new era name as it is the first one that was taken from classical Japanese literature instead of Chinese.
Era names have steadily taken root in people’s lives and society. Some people criticized era names when the Era Name Law was enacted 40 years ago (the 54th year of the Showa Era) and when the era name was changed from Showa to Heisei. But such criticism is almost unheard of these days.
Traditional culture that needs to be perpetuated
The public was very interested in the moves connected to the selection of the new era name. Like Heisei, Reiwa will no doubt come to be widely accepted by the people.
Manyoshu is an exquisite work of classical literature in which poems by Japanese people from all walks of life from emperors to commoners are gathered. It is a suitable source for an era name.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe explained the intentions behind the new era name. He said: “I hope each and every one of the Japanese people can have hope for the future and make their own magnificent flowers bloom. This is the kind of Japan I have in mind.”
The government should make efforts to ensure that the new era name is widely used by society, not to mention in official documents.
We live in an age when the number of foreign residents and tourists has increased dramatically. The government notified 195 countries and the UN and other international organizations of the new era name. The government should take various measures to ensure that foreign nationals in Japan will understand and become familiar with the new era name.
The system of era names was introduced by the Former Han dynasty in ancient China and was adopted in many countries where Chinese characters were used. Era names are different from the Gregorian calendar or the Islamic calendar. They are a “measure of time” in the East.
Japan is now the only country that still uses era names. We have been using era names intermittently for more than 1,300 years since the fourth Taiho Era began in 701.
It goes without saying that era names are part of the living culture of the East that Japan has inherited. They are also part of the traditional culture that is extremely important to Japan and needs to be perpetuated.
Establishing an era name used to be a symbol of a country’s independence. Successive Chinese dynasties forced its subordinate countries to use China’s era names. The history of Japanese era names indicates that the country, with the emperor at the top, has been maintaining its independence without interruption.
Japan has used a new era name for each emperor based on the practice of assigning an era name to the reign of each emperor since the Meiji Era. Era names are also used as posthumous titles of emperors.
Even in this day and age when era names are decided by a Cabinet order based on the Era Name Law, the era name, which is changed only when there is an Imperial succession, is essentially “the Emperor’s era name.”
In Japan, the emperors and the people have been making history together. That is why Article One of the Constitution defines the Emperor as “the symbol of the State and the unity of the People.” Era names are designed to give the public a sense of unity and it can be said that they are consistent with the spirit of the Constitution.
Era names enable the public to look back on past times and national events, such as the Meiji Restoration, the battles of Bunei and Koan [Mongolian invasions], the Tempo Reforms, and the Second World War in the Showa Era.
Calls for using only the Gregorian calendar for the sake of convenience on the grounds that the use of both era names and the Gregorian calendar requires conversion are based on superficial thinking that is insensitive to Japan’s rich history and culture.
Issuance of “imperial rescript” announcing new era name ideal in future
Although Chinese literature was not the source of the new era name this time, it is a cultural asset not only of China but also of the East and the entire world. Along with Japanese literature, it forms the foundation of Japanese culture. The literature of China and Japan cannot be compared.
This was the first time for a new era name to be unveiled before the Imperial succession. It can be said that this was necessary in a highly computerized society to avoid disruptions to people’s lives.
But the official procedures should have been carried out under the new emperor. It would make more sense for the government to announce the new era name unofficially and then for the new emperor, who will be responsible for the new era, to sign and seal a government ordinance to officially change the era name.
The system should be revamped in the future to enable the new emperor to issue an imperial rescript announcing a new era name approved by the cabinet.
When the new era name was reported to the Emperor and the Crown Prince, the Crown Prince, who will live under the new era of Reiwa, reportedly smiled in response to the new era name.
The Heisei Era will draw to a close in less than a month. We should take all possible measures to ensure that the abdication takes place smoothly before embarking on the Reiwa Era.