Japan declares new imperial era 'Reiwa' | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 02, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, April 02, 2019

Japan declares new imperial era 'Reiwa'

Japan yesterday declared the name of its new imperial era when Crown Prince Naruhito becomes emperor on May 1, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saying it emphasised traditional values at a turning point in the nation's history.

Crowds watching giant television screens across Tokyo roared and raised their phones to take photos as a somber Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga held up a white placard with the new name - Reiwa - written in two characters in black ink.

The country had been anxiously awaiting the new era name, or "gengo," which is used on coins, calendars, newspapers and in official paperwork, and over time captures a national mood.

The first character is most often used to mean "command" but can also mean "good" and "beautiful," while the second means "peace" or "harmony".

The name emphasises the beauty of Japan's traditional culture and a future in which everyone would be able to achieve their dreams, especially young people, Abe said.

"Our nation is facing a big turning point, but there are lots of Japanese values that should not fade away," he told a news conference, adding the name signals that "our nation's culture is born and nourished by people's hearts being drawn beautifully together."

Naruhito's ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne will come a day after his father, Emperor Akihito, abdicates on April 30, ending the Heisei era, which began in 1989. He will be the first emperor to abdicate in Japan in over two centuries.

The announcement came a month early so government offices and companies can update computer software and make preparations to avoid glitches when the new era begins.

While use of the Western calendar is common, many Japanese count years by gengo or use the two systems interchangeably.

While the public response was generally positive, some people did not like the new name, pronounced "ray-wa."

"It's a gentle, peaceful name," said Masaharu Hannuki, a 63-year-old man outside Shimbashi train station where free special edition newspapers were handed out. "We want this to be an era where children can shine in a calm future."

Others said it sounded severe because the first character is used most often to mean "command" and "order."

"The idea that you should just give in to orders from those above you -- that's probably their wish but that doesn't give me the sense they want peace for ordinary people," said one Twitter user.

For the first time, the new name was taken from an ancient Japanese source -- an anthology of poems called the Manyoshu -- instead of old Chinese texts.

The characters are from a poem about spring that mentions soft winds and plum blossoms -- references that scholars recognised but are not familiar to most people.

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