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‘Reiwa’ chosen as new era name

The name will come into effect when Akihito abdicates his throne in May.


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Updated: April 1, 2019

The government decided the new era name as “Reiwa” at an extraordinary Cabinet meeting on Monday morning. Later, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe read out his statement at a press conference to explain the meanings connoted by the new era name.

A government ordinance to set the new era name was signed by the Emperor and promulgated the same day. Reiwa will begin and Heisei will end just after the clock strikes midnight on April 30 to give way to May 1, the day of Crown Prince Naruhito’s enthronement.

The new era name was announced by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga after the Cabinet meeting. He held up the name written in calligraphy in sumi black ink.

Reiwa is the 248th era name (see below) in Japan since Taika was established in 645.

According to Suga, the name was derived from the “Manyoshu,” Japan’s oldest poetry collection.

Two kanji characters — “rei” and “wa” — were taken from the introduction of a set of 32 poems on plum trees in the “Manyoshu.”

This is the first time that an era name has been sourced from classical Japanese literature instead of Chinese. Among 77 era names up to Heisei whose sources were confirmed, all were taken from Chinese classics.

The decision on the new era name readies the nation for the first Imperial abdication in Japan’s constitutional history. There have been no other cases in which an era name to be used for a new era was unveiled prior to the start of that era.

In selecting the new era name, the government followed the process taken for selecting Heisei.

In March, the government formally requested scholars in Japanese literature, classical Chinese literature, Japanese history and oriental history to come up with era name candidates.

On Monday, the government held a meeting with nine opinion leaders such as Nobel laureate and Kyoto University Prof. Shinya Yamanaka and Naoki Prize-winning writer Mariko Hayashi at the Prime Minister’s Office to hear opinions from them on the short list of names.

Suga then visited the official residence of the president of the House of Representatives to meet with the heads and the deputy heads of both chambers of the Diet to hear their opinions on the candidates.

The government then held a forum of all Cabinet ministers at the Prime Minister’s Office to discuss the new era name based on the opinions heard. The government formally decided the new era name at the extraordinary Cabinet meeting.

Afterward, the new era name was reported to the Emperor and Empress.

The government will not release who originally came up with the new name of Reiwa or other candidate era names.

After the announcement, Yamanaka told reporters that multiple candidates were presented from Chinese and Japanese classics.

One Cabinet minister said there had been at least six names presented at the meeting.

The government had decided to announce the era name one month before it takes effect to give time to modify computer and other systems in the public and private sectors ahead of the transition to the new name.

1st Japanese classic used

The “Manyoshu” is an anthology of poems mainly compiled in the Nara period (710-784).

In the case of selecting Heisei, there was a move to source a name from classical Japanese literature. Junzo Matoba, a former bureaucrat involved in the process of selecting Heisei as the head of the Cabinet councillors office for internal affairs, had said the government asked a Japanese literature scholar to come up with candidate names. But the names proposed were not included as candidates presented at a meeting of opinion leaders.

A government source said there was concern at that time that the new era name’s reputation would be damaged if the classical Japanese text sourced was itself originally based on a Chinese classic, as many Japanese classics use passages quoting Chinese classics. Therefore, some experts did not support using Japanese classics.

■ Era name

The world’s first named era was “Jianyuan,” adopted by Emperor Wu of China’s Han dynasty in the second century B.C. After that, the practice of giving titles to eras spread to cultures around China that use kanji characters, such as in Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Currently, Japan is the only country that uses era names



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