From Heisei to Reiwa


Today has been an endless stream of meetings at school as we prepare for the new school year, which starts on Thursday. There was, however, a brief respite to the boredom. At 11:20, the TV in the teachers’ room was turned on and tuned in to the news where they would be revealing the name for the new era in a few minutes.

First, a bit of background. In Japan, there are two ways to write the current year: the first is based on the Western calendar, and the second is based on the reign of the current emperor. This year is 平成31 (Heisei 31), meaning it is the 31st year of the reign of Emperor Akihito. The Heisei Era began after the former emperor, Emperor Hirohito, died in 1989, and will end on April 30th, 2019 when Emperor Akihito abdicates. The throne will then pass to his son, which means that a new era name has to be decided.

Japan’s Calendar The Western Calendar
昭和 (Showa) 62 1987
昭和 63 1988
昭和 64  /  平成 (Heisei) 1 1989
平成 2 1990
平成 3 1991
平成 31  /  令和 (Reiwa) 1 2019

When it was finally time for the announcement, the Chief Cabinet Secretary stood behind a podium and held up a picture frame with beautifully-written kanji in it. 「令和」 (“Reiwa”) it said. The teachers standing in front of the TV oohed and aahed… and then he moved the frame to his right — right behind the box where the sign-language translator was being displayed. The teachers immediately started complaining, and they quickly removed the translator. Oops!

The name 「令和」 comes from a poem in the oldest book of Japanese poetry. Before this, era names were taken from Chinese literature, so this is the first time something Japanese in origin has been used. The kanji used mean “order, command, decree” and “harmony, Japan, peace.” Despite all of this, when I first saw the kanji I mistook the first one for 「冷」, which means “cold, cool, chilly,” and thought that the meaning of the two together was a bad pun for “Cool Japan” haha.

Looking forward to what the Reiwa Era will bring!

Categories: The Good, the Bad, and the Interesting

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