The Yomiuri ShimbunIt is hoped that the name will become familiar to many people as a word symbolizing the new era.
The government has decided to make “Reiwa” the new era name, to be used from May 1 when the crown prince assumes the throne, replacing the current era name of Heisei.
Reiwa was derived from a poem in “Manyoshu,” Japan’s oldest poetry collection. The poem states, “Shoshun no Reigetsu nishite Ki Yoku Kaze Yawaragi (In an auspicious month in early spring, the weather is nice and the wind is gentle).” The selection of the new name is said to have been based on such factors as its suitability as an ideal for the public, and being easy to read and write.
1st use of Japan classic
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “[Reiwa] carries the connotation that culture will be born and grow among people who care for each other in a beautiful manner.” Though it might take a while for the general public to become accustomed to Reiwa, its two kanji characters express generous emotions.
Reiwa is the 248th era since Taika was established. This is the first time that an era name has been sourced from classical Japanese literature.
“Manyoshu” was compiled about 1,200 years ago and features poems composed by people from a wide range of social classes, from emperors to farmers. Abe said Manyoshu was chosen because It is “literature written by Japanese that symbolizes the rich culture of the people and the nation’s long traditions.”
It is understandable that it reflects the wish of the government to ensure that the culture and beautiful nature of Japan, which have been nurtured over many years, are passed on to the next generation.
Before World War II, each new emperor ultimately chose his era name based on an ordinance stipulating the procedures of Imperial succession ceremonies. The postwar Constitution stipulates that an emperor shall not have powers related to government. The Era Name Law enacted in 1979 stipulates that “era names are established by government ordinance.”
Reiwa will be the second era name, following Heisei, chosen under the sovereignty of the people. It is the first case in which an era name has been established prior to the enthronement of a new emperor.
The government reported the new era name to the crown prince prior to the official announcement of Reiwa, apparently as a reflection of the depth of the traditional relationship between emperors and era names.
At the same time, it is reasonable that the government was very careful that the crown prince was not involved in the process of establishing the name. For this reason, the government reported the new name to the crown prince after the Cabinet made its decision.
In deciding on Reiwa, the government basically used the procedures for choosing Heisei, while increasing the number of women on the expert panel from which the government heard opinions on the day of picking Reiwa. The panel also included Nobel laureate and Kyoto University Prof. Shinya Yamanaka.
The government has apparently aimed to carefully conduct the selection procedures while hearing opinions from a wide range of people.
History of renewal
Era names in the cultural sphere of kanji, or Chinese characters, are said to have originated during the Former Han dynasty in the 2nd century B.C., and to have spread to Japan, the Korean Peninsula, Vietnam and elsewhere. Today the use of era names continues only in Japan, where the era year and the year on the Western calendar are both used.
Era names have created a common consciousness of the times among Japanese people. Since the Meiji era, each emperor’s reign has had a single name, and there is a history of public sentiment being significantly renewed in line with the change of the name.
The enthronement of the new emperor and the implementation of the new era name will undoubtedly have a certain impact on the mind-set of the people.
Advances in globalization and increasing use of the Western calendar notwithstanding, ways should be explored for the era name, which is a tradition of Japan, to be utilized on various occasions.
The government had originally planned to make public at the end of March the official documents written back in 1989, concerning the change of era to Heisei, but has decided to put it off for five years. The intention was to avoid any impact on the most recent change of era name.
Documents related to the selection of the era name will become a valuable clue for members of the public to think about the history of the era name and its significance.
As to the process of the latest selection, the government intends to keep as official documents the era names on the shortlist, the names of the scholars who devised these choices, and the content of the proceedings of such meetings as those of opinion leaders. It is hoped that these documents will be made public in the future, so that future generations can examine them.
There is only one month to go before the era name is to be changed. Although there is relatively ample time compared with when the era name was changed to Heisei, data systems have become ever more complex and diversified.
Negligence in preparations may hinder the national economy and the people’s daily lives. Both public and private entities need to ensure that preparations are flawless in altering their computer systems.
The prospect of fraud conducted under the pretext of the change of era name is worrisome. There have already been such cases in which false letters were delivered saying that a bank cash card needed to be changed. Sufficient precautions are needed.
Ensure smooth rituals
The Japan Patent Office has revised the screening criteria so that old and new era names cannot be registered as part of a trademark. The aim of preventing these names from being used exclusively by specific business operators is understandable.
The details of the rituals for the abdication of the Emperor on April 30 and those for the crown prince’s enthronement on May 1 have been decided. Following the rituals for abdication, the sacred objects of a comma-shaped jewel and a sword that validate the throne will be temporarily returned to their original storage place and then brought to the rituals for enthronement slated for the following day.
It is appropriate to avoid having the rituals perceived as the Emperor transferring his throne to the crown prince through his own will.
The rituals and ceremonies that accompany the change of emperor will continue into next year. Preparations should be made thoroughly so these rituals and ceremonies are carried out smoothly.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 2, 2019)Speech