By Charlotte King
On May 1st, Japan will enter a new era of ‘fortunate harmony’ one day after the country swears in its next emperor, Crown Prince Naruhito. Following months of secret deliberation and rising anticipation, it was announced that the Crown Prince’s reign will signal the beginning of the Reiwa era.
Japanese tradition dictates that the country enters a new imperial era with the enrolment of each emperor, with the introduction of the Reiwa era being the first time Japan has entered a new era in over 200 years.
Japan’s current emperor, Akihito, will hand over his reign to his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, at the end of this month in light of concerns that the 84-year old emperor may not be able to continue ruling due to health-related problems. Akihito has led the country for 30 years; the ascension of Naruhito to the Chrysanthemum Throne will be a historic event.
This marks the imminent end of the current Heisei era, translated into “achieving peace”. It is a common sentiment that this name aptly depicts Akihito’s rule, as he pledged himself to tackling the continued struggles facing Japan in the post-Second World War era and abolished the “bubble economy” and strained economic relations with regional hegemon, China. It is because of this that many look forward to Reiwa with excitement, hoping as Heisei brought peace, Reiwa will bring “fortunate harmony”.
The upcoming era, Reiwa, translates into “fortunate” or “auspicious”, and “peace” or “harmony”; a direct translation into English is difficult. The two characters, Rei and Wa, were adopted from the oldest anthology of Japanese poetry dating back to the eighth century, “Manyoshu”. With the country waiting in anticipation, the name of this new era was announced on national media by Yoshihide Suga, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, and was met with celebration.
Following the announcement, Suga commented, “We hope the new era name will be widely accepted by the public and become deeply rooted in the lives of the Japanese people”. The Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, also stated “Just like amazing plum flowers in full bloom that signal the arrival of spring after bitter cold, each and every Japanese person can hope for the future and make their own flowers blossom”.
Abe indicates that as a nation, Japan is facing a turning point but most not forgo its traditional values, hence the name of the upcoming era is reflective of not only Japanese culture and tradition but also an intention to build a country fit for future generations. It seems that Japan is “brimming with hope” at the prospect of entering a new era, with many hoping its promise of bringing “fortunate harmony” will ring true.