WASHINGTON – U.S. and other Western media covering Japan’s announcement Monday of the name of its new imperial era starting May 1 emphasized the decision by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government to break with tradition by selecting a name from a Japanese rather than a Chinese work of classical literature.
“The break from 1,400 years of drawing era names from Chinese classics was expected from Abe’s conservative government, which is often hawkish toward China,” the Associated Press said in a dispatch from Tokyo.
Under the headline, “Japan snubs China at dawn of new imperial era,” British newspaper The Times reported the selection of “Reiwa” for the new era “reflects the nationalist pride of its prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and its tense relations with China.”
The Guardian, another British paper, said the move “represents a break with centuries of tradition as the first era name to have been inspired by a Japanese, rather than Chinese, work of classical literature.”
The New York Times quoted Ken Ruoff, a professor of history at Portland State University, as saying Abe made an “unquestionably significant” choice by selecting an era name, or “gengo,” from Japanese literature.
“He went out of his way to emphasize that this is Japanese tradition,” Ruoff, an expert on the Japanese imperial system, was quoted as saying.
In a Twitter post, U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty congratulated the country on the start of the new era.
“We look forward to strengthening our partnership in the era of #Reiwa!” Hagerty wrote.
Speaking at a press conference Monday in Tokyo, Abe said the 248th gengo derives from the “Manyoshu,” compiled in the 7th century and the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry. Reiwa, he said, means that culture is born and nurtured as the people’s hearts are drawn beautifully together.
Japan is the only country in the world that uses the era name system, which has its roots in China, although the Gregorian calendar is also in common use.
The current era “Heisei,” which means “achieving peace,” will end when Emperor Akihito abdicates on April 30. His son Crown Prince Naruhito will accede to the throne the following day.