Japan chooses new imperial era name for future emperor

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga displays the new era name. Source: Reuters

Japan has chosen the name for its new imperial era.

The current emperor Akihito, 85, whose imperial era name is ‘Heisei’, will abdicate at the end of this month, something that has not happened in more than 200 years.

The new era will be called “Reiwa”.

Normally a new era is revealed only when one emperor has died and his successor has taken the throne, but the ‘gengo’, meaning imperial era name, was announced early to allow government offices and companies to update their computer software.

The successor to the Japanese throne will be Crown Prince Naruhito, 59, the emperor’s eldest son.

What does Reiwa mean?

The term for the new era is made up of the two characters Rei and Wa, meaning “order” or “decree”, and “peace” or “harmony”.

It was taken from the Manyoshu, the oldest existing collection of Japanese poems compiled in the 8th century.

The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the Manyoshu symbolises Japan’s ‘profound public culture and long tradition’.

“Our nation is facing up to a big turning point, but there are lots of Japanese values that shouldn’t fade away,” Mr Abe told reporters.

Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko attend a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of Emperor Akihito’s enthronement at the National Theatre in Tokyo, Japan February 24, 2019. Source: Reuters
Why is this important?

While in the UK an image of the reigning monarch appears generally only on coins, notes and stamps, in Japan, the gengo is even more present, appearing on the currency, newspapers, driving licences and official paperwork.

Each gengo’s name aims to set the tone for the upcoming decades, and remains significant to most Japanese in their daily life.

People have an affinity to their gengo, especially if they were born during it, e.g. someone who was born in 1996 would also say they were born in the 8th year of the reign of the emperor Heisei.

The Gregorian calendar is often used alongside the gengo, although its popularity is declining amongst the younger generation.

Monday’s unveiling of the era name follows weeks of speculation and top-secret cabinet discussions and the winning term was eventually chosen by cabinet from a selection drawn up by a panel of scholars and experts.

Unexpected benefits

The new name has already made waves on social media, with an unusual side effect being seen in Australia.

The Real Estate Institute of Western Australia (REIWA) saw an unprecedented increase in online traffic as Japanese people mistook their website for the gengo.