The entire Japan was very excited about naming of the country’s new era, Reiwa (令和＝rei-wa). It was just announced on April 1st when some people were so preoccupied by the announcement, they forgot it was April Fool’s Day.
Era names are called Gengo (元号=げんごう、GEN-GOh) in Japanese. Japanese use both the dominical year and Gengo which originated in ancient China. The first era was named Taika (大化=たいか、TAi-ka), and Japan has used the era names since 645.
Most era names start with the accession of a new emperor to the throne, and that year is the first year of the new era (元年=がんねん、GAn-nen, literally meaning “the first year”).
There are two important distinctions that are very unique in changing the name this time.
- Usually, changing the era name means the demise of the Reining Emperor (今上天皇=KIN-JOH-TEN-NOh), so the country is filled with great sadness. But this time, Emperor Akihito is still alive. The new era name was announced as a preparation for the Emperor’s abdication on April 30th, 2019.
- In the past, the era names were selected from traditional Chinese texts, but this time it was taken from the oldest Japanese classic poetry collection called Manyoshu (万葉集 = まんようしゅう、MAN-YOh-shu).
The meaning of “Reiwa” is difficult to explain, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan says it means “Beautiful Harmony”.
Some people say we do not need the era names anymore because the dominical year is universal, more practical and easier to use, but as a country with the world’s longest history, it is nice to maintain this unique tradition.
Article by Motoko West