Japan began the Reiwa period after Emperor Naruhito ascended the throne — here's how it names its imperial eras

(Kyodo News via Getty Images)New Japanese Emperor Naruhito (on dais) inherits the imperial regalia of sword and jewel at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on May 1, 2019.
  • Japan rang in the new “Reiwa” era as Emperor Naruhito ascended to the throne on Wednesday.
  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said “Reiwa” means that culture is born as the people “beautifully care about each other.”
  • A panel of scholars suggested different options for the name, following strict guidelines.
  • “Reiwa” was the first imperial era name to stray from the rule of using characters from Chinese texts.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Japan marked the beginning of a new imperial era on Wednesday as a new emperor, Naruhito, ascended the throne. His father, Akihito, abdicated in a historic ceremony on Tuesday, the first emperor to do so in 200 years.

After a new emperor ascends the throne, Japan begins a new era with a new name. Under Emperor Naruhito, Japan will be in the Reiwa period. It officially started at midnight on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the word Reiwa comes from Japan’s oldest poetry collection, and signifies that culture is born when people “beautifully care about each other” when the name was announced.

The word itself roughly translates as “pursuing harmony.”

For the past 30 years, under the rule of Emperor Akihito, Japan had been in the Heisei era. Heisei means “achieving peace.”


Read more:
Japan names new era as Emperor Akihito prepares to step down

The Reiwa period is only the second era, or gengo, to be named under Japan’s postwar constitution. Since 1947, the Japanese emperor has held no political power, and is not involved in the naming process for Japan’s imperial eras.

Under the modern rules, the prime minister appoints a panel of scholars to propose new names, according to the Japanese TV network Nippon.

The experts’ suggestions usually consider the following factors:

  • The name has to be easy to write and read.
  • There are no other eras with the same name.
  • It is not a word in common use.
  • It uses two “kanji,” or Chinese characters used in the Japanese writing system.

Eras traditionally included “kanji” because Japan adopted the imperial calendar system from China about 1,300 years ago. The Reiwa, however, is the first era not to use characters from Chinese classics. Instead, it draws inspiration from Japanese Manyoshu poetry from the 7th century.

Reuters shared a scholar’s translation of the part of the collection that inspired the name: “It is now the choice month of early spring; the weather is fine, the wind is soft. The plum blossoms open – powder before a mirror; the orchids exhale – fragrance after a sachet.”

Japan imperial era(Eugene Hoshiko/AP)The Japanese public speculated about the new era name.

The new name was announced by Japan’s cabinet a month ago, to give government sectors and businesses enough time to prepare for the change.

The imperial calendar still affects many parts of society although in recent years the Western calendar has become much more widely used.

Government agencies use the eras in their paperwork and computer systems, according to Reuters. Era names also appear in newspapers, calendars, and on coins.

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