It was a highly anticipated event in Japan as its people were eager to find out the name of the coming new era. And today, on April 1, the government has officially announced that Japan’s new era will be called ‘Reiwa’ (令和). This imperial period is scheduled to start on May 1, when reigning Emperor Akihito abdicates the Imperial Chrysanthemum Throne, and Crown Prince Naruhito takes over as the 126th Emperor of Japan.
Reiwa’s two characters are taken from the Manyoshu, a collection of classical Japanese poetry from the eighth century. Marking Japan’s 248th imperial era, it’s actually the first such official name to use kanji characters taken from Japanese literature instead of classical Chinese poetry, which was the practice until now.
Those who are familiar with the Japanese language may know that rei (令) usually stands for ‘order’ or ‘command’, but since it was taken from a 1,300-year old text, the word refers to its classical meaning instead, which is ‘auspicious’. The second character wa (和) can be translated as ‘peace’ or ‘harmony’, as well as ‘Japanese’.
In Japan, the name of each emperor’s reign, known as gengo, is commonly used in official documents, alongside the Gregorian calendar that’s widely used internationally. In order to pick an appropriate title for a new era, several prominent scholars were asked to submit their ideas, which was then narrowed down based on six different criteria – its meaning has to reference Japanese society; it needs to have two kanji characters; it has to be easy to read; it can’t be a word from a previous era name or a past emperor’s posthumous name; and it can’t be a commonly used word.
To watch the ceremonial unveiling of the new era’s name, click here.