Japan is soon to leave the era of Heisei, with the government announcing on Monday that the name of the new era would be Reiwa.
The word originated from the Japanese ancient collection of poems, the Manyoshu. Once the cumbant emperor abdicates on 1 May 2019, the first year of Reiwa will begin. The era of Heisei ran for a period of 30 years and 4 months, starting from 8 January 1989.
Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has notified 195 countries and international organizations of this change, indicating that the romanized spelling shall be “REIWA”.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “Reiwa reflects how culture is born when people’s hearts grow beautifully together.”
According to the 1979 Era Act, deciding the Japanese era names is the responsibility of the cabinet. The new era is the 248th since the first named era of Taika.
There have been 72 different kanji characters used since the first era name. The most common is “Ei” or eternity, which has been used 29 times. The second most popular is jointly shared between “Ten” (heaven) and “gen” (origin) at 27 times each.
This is the first time the “Rei” character, which alone means “command” or “order,” has been used. “Rei” is also used in the word for the second month of the lunar calendar in Japanese “Reigetsu,” which is supposed to be a great month of celebration. The character for the second part of the word, “Wa,” means “harmony” and is used to represent “Japan.”
Era names based on ruler were also once used in China and Vietnam, but have since been abandoned. Japan is the only country left in the world to use such a system.
There was of course domestic interest in Monday’s announcement of the new era name, but there was also curiosity from abroad with over 4.5 million tweets about the name in just two hours after – a powerful welcome to a new era!